Illegal Logging Conundrum

From American Forest Research Council
AFRC Newsletter, 10/21/08,

Everyone agrees that we want to prevent illegal logging and have checks and balances in place to assure that no illegally harvested and/or processed wood makes its way into our country. With the enactment of the 2008 Farm Bill, the Lacey Act was amended for the purpose of combating illegal logging and expanding the Lacey Act’s anti-trafficking protections to a broader set of plants and plant products. The idea was to halt environmental damage from illegal timber harvests in places such as the Amazon and Congo Basin, while protecting U.S. manufacturers from cheaper foreign wood imports.

Beginning April 1, 2009, the Lacey Act will require an import declaration for plants and plant products for anyone who imports into the U.S. or exports out the U.S. Importers must file a declaration upon importation that contains the scientific name of the plant, the value of the importation, the quantity of plants, and the name of the country from which the plant was taken. A second phase covering wood-based products such as furniture and pulpwood begins on July 1, with a final phase for other products beginning September 30.

Further, the Lacey Act states that anyone who imports or exports any harvested plants out of the country illegally, including timber, as well as anyone who exports, transports, sells, receives, acquires or purchases such products may be prosecuted. Under the Act the defendant need not be the one who violated the foreign law; the plants or timber, and the products made from the illegal plants or timber, become “tainted” even if someone else commits the foreign law violation.

Retail and import groups say the proposed phase-in schedule for declaring their products could be disastrous, given the difficulty of accurately identifying the plant used in a product and that plant’s country of origin.

Two Oregon lawmakers instrumental in passage of the illegal logging ban, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have asked the Agriculture Department to extend the phase-in period for the new controls while exempting some groups of exports for up to two years. These extensions would reduce the burden on implementing agencies and maximize the accuracy and value of the declarations submitted by importers.

In short, the new law is a great idea, although implementation and administration has some pitfalls that need to be resolved.

/ Tom Partin

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