When Colin Hepburn, member of the activist group Wilderness Committee, was walking through the woods in May of 2012 in Canada’s Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, he came across the remains of an 800-year-old cedar tree. It had stood at almost 200 feet, and it was gone, cut off at its giant base, an entire ecosystem of birds, small mammals, mosses, and insects stolen with it. In a lengthy Smithsonian feature, reporter Lyndsie Bourgon details the fate of this and many other trees in what has become a global poaching scheme, only this time it's old-growth trees instead of ivory, and the living creatures in question are centuries in the making. "When it comes to the underground world of black market timber, the case of this 800-year-old cedar is just the tip of the iceberg," writes Bourgon.
Over the past couple of years at an annual black market trade and poaching conference held by Interpol and the United Nations Environmental Program in Nairobi, elephant poaching and timber theft have been the focal points. One UNEP report estimates that up to 30% of the world's timber trade is conducted on the black market. "Our parks are comparable to cathedrals or castles in Europe," one expert says. "But they are not protected. There is no security." For now, Bourgon writes, there is only hope that the empty spaces left by trees like the giant in Carmanah will leave enough clearing in the canopy for a sapling to thrive and perhaps fill the void, centuries from now. Read her whole story here. (Read more poaching stories.)