There are various causes of illegal logging but often it is a symptom of wider governance problems, such as inappropriate legislation, weak institutions, unclear forest tenure, corruption and a lack of law enforcement.
The social, economic and environmental impacts of illegal logging and the related trade vary widely, depending on both the scale and the type of illegal activity. Thus, it may take place on an industrial scale, or entail small-scale infringements, with minimal or highly localised impacts. The type of illegality is also significant – for example, infringement of harvesting rules will have direct environmental impacts, while financial misdemeanours affect revenues and overall management of the sector. It should be noted that illegality and unsustainability are not synonymous – illegal practices may be sustainable and legal practices unsustainable. Illegal logging can also be an important part of the livelihoods of rural communities.
The complexity of the problem – both with respect to causes and impacts – means that there is no easy solution to illegal logging. Focusing only on law enforcement can reinforce corrupt networks or increase poverty amongst some forest users. Rather, multi-faceted approaches adapted to particular contexts are required to reduce illegal logging in an equitable manner.