Timber regulations like the Lacey Act wood amendment and EUTR are increasingly being used to regulate the international trade of tropical forest products. Advocates often cite the need to reduce tropical deforestation. But deforestation is not uniquely a tropical problem…

See: When logging in the Amazon is greener than U.S. timber harvests

Nor is illegal logging…

See: 40% of British Columbia timber inspections in June allegedly non-compliant

See: Is wood distribution from rigged timber sales illegal under the Lacey Act?

So why are these timber regulations being used to control tropical wood flows, but not domestic ones?

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act amendment could equally be applied to wood flows originating from, and occurring within, the United States.

According to the Lacey Act:

It is unlawful for any person—

(1) to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law;

(2) to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce—

(A) any fish or wildlife taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any State or in violation of any foreign law;

(B) any plant—

(i) taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any State, or any foreign law, that protects plants or that regulates—

(I) the theft of plants;

(II) the taking of plants from a park, forest reserve, or other officially protected area;

(III) the taking of plants from an officially designated area; or

(IV) the taking of plants without, or contrary to, required authorization;

(ii) taken, possessed, transported, or sold without the payment of appropriate royalties, taxes, or stumpage fees required for the plant by any law or regulation of any State or any foreign law; or

(iii) taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any limitation under any law or regulation of any State, or under any foreign law, governing the export or transshipment of plants; or

However, despite being frequently used to regulate the harvest and trade of interstate wildlife in the United States, the Lacey Act is rarely used to regulate illegal logging and trade of U.S. wood products.

Is this because the amendment is intended primarily to protect U.S. wood producers?

To protect U.S. wood producers

In the words of a Research Forester with the USDA Forest Service, “The Lacey Act Amendment of 2008 (LAA) was enacted most proximately as a way of reducing aggregate demand for illegally obtained timber products globally.”

According to Prestemon, “…having such material entering global markets serves to depress world wood product prices, indirectly and negatively affecting U.S. producers.”

…having such material entering global markets serves to depress world wood product prices, indirectly and negatively affecting U.S. producers.

Jeffrey P. Prestemon – Research Forester, USDA Forest Service

From this perspective, the motivation for the Lacey Act wood amendment was never to reduce deforestation, but to prevent low prices from negatively affecting U.S. producers.

In fact, organizations of U.S. workers and forest product producers were among the original supporters of the 2008 Lacey Act amendment. Here’s a list, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA):

  • United Steelworkers
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • American Forest & Paper Association
  • Society of American Foresters
  • National Hardwood Lumber Association
  • Greenpeace
  • The Sierra Club
  • EIA
  • …and numerous other environmental NGOs.

This could explain why the Lacey Act is more commonly used to control tropical wood flows, and rarely used to enforce the illegal trade of wood products originating from within U.S. forests. (An occurrence that is both frequent, and seemingly of significant scale.)

See: Two Alaska timber sales were not managed in accordance with USDA Forest Service policy

What effect on tropical forests?

When used to regulate tropical wood flows, what impact does the Lacey Act have on tropical forest product demand? And, and turn, how might this influence tropical deforestation? These questions will be considered in the next posts in this series:

Are the Lacey Act and EUTR contributing to tropical deforestation? Evidence from Peru and Indonesia.

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