Illegal Wood Imports to U.S. Have Declined, Science Group Finds

Imports down 32 to 44 percent since Lacey Act amended in 2008, but still continue; increased enforcement needed

Published Oct 14, 2015

Washington (October 14, 2015)— The amount of illegally forested wood coming into the United States has declined dramatically since 2008, when the Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to ban such imports, according to a new in-depth analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), but more needs to be done to reduce volumes even further. 

“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.” said Sam Lawson, illegal logging expert and the report’s author. “The US was the first country in the world to ban imports of illegally sourced wood, and this study shows that it works”.

The report follows in the wake of the largest enforcement action yet under the Lacey amendments, with the US's largest hardwood flooring retailer plead guilty to smuggling Russian and Burmese wood from factories in China during 2011-2013 and ordered to pay more than $10 million in fines and penalties. For further details on this Lacey enforcement action, see the Environmental Investigation Agency statement.

Lawson estimates that imports of illegally forested wood into the US have declined between 32 percent and 44 percent since the Lacey amendments took effect. Two-thirds of the estimated reduction relates to imports from China, which supplies the majority of US wood imports at high risk of illegal origin. China's imports of logs and sawn wood from countries where illegal logging is commonplace have declined dramatically as a proportion of total imports, from 80 percent in 2007 to 45 percent in 2013. This in turn means that Chinese exports of furniture and flooring to the USA are less likely to be made from illegal wood. The report also found evidence of significant reductions in imports of illegal wood from other countries, including Indonesia and Peru.

Despite these gains and the large recent seizure, the report estimates that the US continues to import likely-illegal wood products worth nearly $3 billion each year. The study found that US companies continue to purchase large quantities of wood products from overseas at high risk of illegal origin. By examining individual shipment records, the study was able to demonstrate that in many such cases, no meaningful checks had been made to ensure that the wood was legal.

“Illegal wood continues to go into products we use every day, from paper to pencils to the floors and furniture in our homes,” said Lawson. “The recent prosecution is to be applauded, but there need to be many more such cases. Although the Lacey Act is an enormous success, until it is fully enforced, the US will continue to be partly responsible for illegal logging and its devastating effects”. The report identifies the most high risk products and source countries for increased enforcement to target.

Since the Lacey Act amendments were passed, both the European Union and Australia have enacted similar legislation. The report's author called on other major consumer countries, such as China and Japan, to follow suit. “The success of the Lacey Act has demonstrated to the rest of the world that countries which buy wood can do something to tackle the scourge of illegal logging. There are no longer any excuses. Other countries must now take action.”