Working with policymakers, scientists and environmental groups, WRI’s Forest Legality Initiative made the case for protecting rosewood, one of the world’s most valuable timbers. More than 250 species of rosewood earned legal protections under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in late 2016, a move that can safeguard forests and curb the illegal timber trade.

The Challenge

Rosewood is among the world’s most valuable timbers, used primarily for high-end furniture and musical instruments. It is also one of the most illegally harvested woods. Between 2005 and 2014, rosewood accounted for 35 percent of the value of all wildlife seizures, earning it the nickname “ivory of the forest.” This rampant trade fuels violence and corruption, degrades pristine forests and deprives local communities of a vital resource. While a few species of rosewood have been protected under CITES over the past 25 years, powerful economic interests had stymied more systematic international rosewood protection.

WRI's Role

Starting in 2015, WRI’s Forest Legality Initiative helped convene and collaborated with a coalition of research groups, environmental organizations, leading scientific institutions and signatories to CITES, an international agreement that protects threatened flora and fauna.

In 2016, WRI commissioned a major review of rosewood species in global trade, providing a stronger scientific rationale for CITES protection. WRI also worked with Malagasy experts and the World Bank to produce the first comprehensive country-level assessment of existing knowledge and scientific capacities concerning rosewood species in Madagascar, one of the countries hardest hit by rosewood trafficking. Both studies were referenced during CITES' 17th Conference of the Parties in 2016, informing delegations about the scope of the problem globally and providing a national-level analysis of rosewood conservation capacity. WRI also hosted an international conference on the case for listing rosewood under CITES, convening NGOs, rosewood experts and many source countries shortly before the CITES conference.

The Outcome

In October 2016, parties to CITES voted to protect the entire Dalbergia genus of rosewood – encompassing more than 250 species – and four other highly threatened rosewood species. Protections became legally binding worldwide in January 2017. Countries must now conduct scientific sustainability assessments before harvesting any rosewood for export, and rosewood imports must have a valid CITES export permit from the country of origin. These legal protections aim to help curb the rosewood trade and protect forests.

WRI will continue to support implementation of the CITES rosewood listings and other efforts to combat rosewood trafficking, including through diplomatic engagement, research on technologies to identify rosewood species and capacity-building efforts.