Logging and the Law: How the U.S. Lacey Act Helps Reduce Illegal Logging in the Tropics (2012)

April 2012
Illegal logging has significant environmental, economic, and societal costs. To address these impacts, implementation of the Lacey Act must be a priority.

Illegal logging and the associated trade of illegally sourced wood products is a clandestine industry that threatens forests and economies alike. It involves cutting trees without permits or removing trees from protected areas, and other activities such as avoiding taxes and laundering illegal logs.

While illegal logging occurs in many parts of the world, much of it is concentrated in the tropics, where prized hardwoods are taken to make items like furniture, cabinets, and other architectural woodwork.

In 2008 Congress passed amendments to the Lacey Act, a century-old law that combats trafficking in illegal plants and wildlife, and thus closed the entire U.S. market to illegally sourced wood.

If effectively implemented, the Lacey Act will:

  • Reduce illegal logging and its costly impacts.
  • Help ensure that businesses know where their wood is coming from.
  • Protect the legal forestry industry in the United States.
  • Provide economic development opportunities.
  • Help promote sustainable management of tropical forests.

Illegal logging threatens ecosystems

Illegal logging occurs outside of government regulation and oversight. As a result, it can cause excessive forest damage and ecosystem impoverishment, loss of biodiversity, changes in soil nutrients, and increased susceptibility to clearing for agriculture, pastureland, and other uses.

Such activities change the structure of the forest and reduce the biomass of the forest for decades.

Illegal logging threatens economies

Illegal logging depresses world timber prices and reduces the competitive advantage of legal loggers and producers. Furthermore, it threatens the reputations of legitimate producers and discourages sustainable management practices.

Globally, illegal logging and the associated trade in illegal wood costs governments and businesses an estimated $10 - $15 billion in losses per year.

Illegal logging threatens societies

Illegality anywhere along the wood chain of custody can negatively affect people and social structures.

Very little of the profit from illegal logging and its associated trade remains in the local community. Illegal logging activities can also weaken the rule of law—evidence shows that illegal logging is so corruptive that other forms of organized crime often accompany it, such as arms smuggling and human and drug trafficking.

By supporting and funding implementation of the Lacey Act, Congress can sustain the U.S. wood industry, reduce destructive logging practices, and help Americans make sustainable consumer choices.

The Lacey Act addresses illegal logging

The 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act extended the law’s jurisdiction to illegal plants and plant products, including wood, and thus closed off the U.S. market for these goods.

This approach will create a disincentive for illegal logging, stop artificially low-cost wood from entering the U.S. market, promote sustainable forestry, improve forest management decisions in local communities, and create long-term development opportunities.

The United States’ leadership in enacting the Lacey Act represents an important step forward in helping to end devastation of the world’s tropical forests, increase consumer confidence that their purchases are legal, and bolster the competitiveness of the U.S. wood producing and processing markets.

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