The illegal trade and exploitation in flora, such as illegal logging, has been estimated to represent a value of 30–100 billion USD annually. This equals 10–30% of the total global timber trade. An estimated 50–90% of the wood in some tropical countries is suspected to come from illegal sources or has been logged illegally. In addition to the illegal trade in harvested wild plants for ornamental and medicinal purposes.
Illegal trade in flora appears to take place in four main forms:
The illegal exploitation of high-value endangered wood species, including rosewood and mahogany (many of which are now CITES listed)
Illegal logging of timber for sawnwood, building material and furniture
Illegal logging and laundering of wood through plantation and agricultural front companies to supply pulp for the paper industry
Utilization of the vastly unregulated woodfuel and charcoal trade to conceal illegal logging in and outside protected areas, conduct extensive tax evasion and fraud, and supply fuel through the informal sector.
Trafficking and smuggling of endangered CITES-listed species such as Rosewood (Dalbergia sp.) and some species of Mahogany involve organized crime in both harvesting and in distribution through large trans-oceanic shipments.
Most illegally sourced and traded wood is either not considered or recognized as contraband by customs, or falsely declared as legally sourced and traded wood, or mixed inside paper and pulp. Over thirty different ways of conducting illegal logging and laundering timber are identified. Primary methods include falsification of logging permits, bribes to obtain logging permits (in some instances noted as USD 20–50,000 per permit), logging beyond concessions, hacking government websites to obtain transport permits for higher volumes or transport, laundering illegal timber by establishing roads, ranches, palm oil or forest plantations and mixing with legal timber during transport or in mills. Funnelling large volumes of illegal timber through legal plantations, across borders or through mills, is another effective way to launder logs. In some instances illegal loggers mix illicit timber with 3–30 times the amount of officially processed timber, which also constitutes tax fraud. Many of these illegal operations involve bribes to forest officials, police and military, and even royalties to local village heads.