We've covered how much organized crime syndicates are contributing illegal logging around the world (as well as the illegal wildlife trade), so I'll leave that background as assumed knowledge for the moment. Well, the World Bank has just released a report on how best to combat illegal logging, saying in no uncertain terms that we need to take this as seriously as combatting other mafia activity.
From the report:
Large-scale illegal [logging] operations are carried out by sophisticated criminal networks, and law enforcement actions need to be focused on the 'masterminds' behind these networks—and the high level corrupt officials who enable and protect them," according to the report, which argues that instead of focusing solely on those people actually cutting the trees— many of which are compelled by poverty—one should follow the money trail up.
Recommendations for law officials include developing a domestic criminal justice strategy on illegal logging, improving cooperation between nations, working with the privates sector and NGOs, and linking criminal justice improvements as a part of development packages. Strategies such as surveillance, witness protection, and undercover operations should be employed by law officials on the ground. In addition, one of the best ways to catch high-level criminals is to focus on money laundering.
The criminal justice system should form an integral part of any balanced and organized strategy for fighting forest crime. (h/t Mongabay)
But, as with much trafficking, be it of guns, drugs, rhino horn, people, the connections between the syndicates go beyond just the thing being sold. An example: Illegal logging by so-called timber mafia in Pakistan contributed to the level of devastation caused by flooding in recent years (the slopes erode more easily without trees). That timber mafia also has documented connections with the Taliban, as well. So well beyond the very genuine and serious environmental problems—remember that illegal logging worldwide clears a football field sized area of land every two seconds—there's a bigger geopolitical and human tragedy in this.