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The Lacey Act Amendment of 2008

In 2008 The Lacey Act was amended as section 8204 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, to ban trade in illegally harvested plant products both domestically and abroad. The amendment was spurred by pressure from the U.S timber industry due to losses of income and jobs caused by artificially low prices on imports of illegally logged wood products.  Prior to this, the only plants protected under the Lacey Act were CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) listed species. 

For the first time, the United States will address illegal logging both nationally and internationally from the demand side. The Lacey Act does not impose U. S. law on other countries, but rather depends on the laws of the countries of origin to define illegally sourced. Unlike previous attempts to address this issue, this is not a voluntary program, violations range from fines up to $500,000 and up to 5 years in prison. Importers are required to provide a declaration the country of origin, the quantity and units, the value and species name. Although there is no document that certifies a shipment of wood as legal, there has been a surge of interest from the private sector in third party verification. The burden of proof falls on the exporters. Importers must show “due care” was taken to verify the product came from a legal source. Enforcement of phase two began on October, 1 2009 (This includes wood charcoal, plywood, wooden frames, table and kitchenware, caskets and statuettes) Phase three is scheduled to begin on April 1, 2010.

Around the world, the law has been well received as the costs of illegal logging internationally are social, environmental and economic. The cost to developing countries is nearly $10 billion annually – this represents over 6 times as much money spent on sustainable forest management, with an additional $5 billion lost due to evaded taxes and royalties on legal logging. The social costs can also be brutal, there are examples of timber barons using violence, political intimidation and forced labor, anti-logging organizers and investigators have been beaten and murdered. On the demand side, the United States is the world’s largest importer of wood products, at nearly 20%. Of this percentage, an estimated 10% is from illegal sources.

The connection to climate- as we countdown to Copenhagen where avoided deforestation is at the center of the debate, the Lacey Act is one more tool that will help to address some of the challenges facing REDD, including permanence and leakage.