- The US was the first country in the world to ban imports of illegally forested wood, and a new study shows that the ban is working.
- Illegal wood imports into the US have declined between 32 and 44 percent since Lacey Act amendments went into effect in 2008.
- Despite these gains, researchers estimate that the US still imports as much as $3 billion-worth of illegal wood every year.
Last week, the largest hardwood flooring retailer in the United States, Lumber Liquidators, plead guilty to violating the Lacey Act and agreed to pay fines and penalties of more than $13 million.
Lumber Liquidators’ crimes were uncovered in 2013 by the Environmental Investigation Agency, which had conducted an investigation that revealed the company had been complicit in the smuggling of illegally logged Russian and Burmese wood to factories in China, some of which ultimately ended up in products sold in the US.
Those actions violated the Lacey Act, which was first signed into law in 1900 by President William McKinley to halt the illegal trade of wildlife, and amended in 2008 to ban the trade of illegally harvested wood and other plants. The Lumber Liquidators plea deal was the result of the largest enforcement action yet taken by the US government under the Lacey Act amendments.
Aside from that high-profile bust, the law has been extremely effective. According to a new analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), illegal wood imports into the US have declined between 32 and 44 percent since the Lacey amendments went into effect.
UCS researchers found that as much as two-thirds of the reduction in illegal imports relates to imports from China. In 2007, 80 percent of the logs and sawn wood China imported came from countries where illegal logging is rampant. But that number was down to just 45 percent in 2013, according to the UCS analysis, making it far less likely that furniture and flooring exported from China to the US is made from illegal wood.
The analysis also found significant reductions in imports of illegal wood from Indonesia and Peru.
“Illegal logging is one of the largest drivers of tropical deforestation worldwide, and is driven in large part by overseas demand for cheap wood products,” Sam Lawson, Union of Concerned Scientists’ illegal logging expert and the report’s author, said in a statement.
Lawson said that the US was the first country in the world to ban imports of illegally forested wood, and his study shows that the ban is working. But he also says that much more needs to be done.
Lawson found that US companies are still purchasing large quantities of wood products at high risk of having illegal origins. Despite the gains made since the 2008 Lacey Act amendments, Lawson estimates that the US still imports as much as $3 billion-worth of illegal wood every year.
By examining shipment records, Lawson was able to show that in many cases there were no meaningful attempts to ensure that the wood was legal. That suggests that more enforcement of the law could curb even more of the illegal timber trade.
“Illegal wood continues to go into products we use every day, from paper to pencils to the floors and furniture in our homes,” Lawson said. “The recent prosecution is to be applauded, but there need to be many more such cases.”
The Lacey Act is an enormous success, he added, but the US will continue to be partly responsible for illegal logging around the globe until it is fully enforced. In the report, Lawson identifies the most risky products and source countries, including China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, that deserve increased scrutiny.
The Lacey Act has demonstrated to the rest of the world that it’s possible to tackle illegal logging, Lawson said. The European Union and Australia have enacted legislation similar to the Lacey Act, and Lawson called on other major consumer countries, like China and Japan, to do so as well.
“There are no longer any excuses,” he said. “Other countries must now take action.”