Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hearing On Major Implications Of The Illegal Timber Industry

Oct 16: The House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, Chaired by Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), held a hearing on H.R. 1497, sponsored by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a bill to amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to extend its protections to plants illegally harvested outside of the United States (aka Legal Timber Protection Act).

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Representative Blumenauer; Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Department of Justice; VP Public Affairs, International Paper Company, On behalf of American Forest & Paper Association; President and CEO, Coastal Lumber Company, on behalf of Hardwood Federation; the Environmental Investigation Agency; Vice President and General Manager, Rex Lumber Company, on behalf of International Wood Products Association.

In his testimony, Representative Blumenauer outlined the significant impacts resulting from illegal timber harvest and sales. He said: "...illegal logging threatens some of the world’s richest and most vulnerable forests and cost the U.S. forest products industry over $1 billion every year in lost opportunities and lower prices. Half of the world’s forests have already disappeared, and the illegal removal of high value threatened tree species destined for the international trade is often the first step leading to forest clearance. The tracks and roads built to access and remove timber become entryways for further illegal cutting, hunting and burning.

"As illegal logging contributes to deforestation, the local and regional climatic systems are dramatically altered and the water balance and dynamics of this fragile ecosystem disrupted. The resulting soil erosion induces floods and landslides. In fact, deforestation accounts for 20% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire global transportation sector.

"Trade in illegally harvested timber undermines democratic governance and threatens indigenous populations as bribery, fraud and, in some cases, extreme violence are all part and parcel of illegal timber trafficking. Moreover, it causes losses to up to $15 billion for low-income countries. By avoiding export duties, timber royalties and taxes on their profits, companies operating unlawfully are robbing national governments of millions of dollars every year.

"In our domestic industry, since as much as 30% of hardwood lumber and plywood traded globally could be of suspicious origin, responsible U.S. companies lose an estimated $460 million in export opportunities every year because of displacement caused by illegally harvested timber. On top of that, the annual value of U.S. exports is between $500 - $700 million lower due to downward pressure on prices from illegally harvested timber. For my home states of Oregon, that means losses of up to $150 million each year..."

In describing the bill, Blumenauer indicated that H.R. 1497 is designed to prohibit trade in illegally harvested timber in the United States. The mechanism by which it does so is by extending the protections of the Lacey Act to timber and other plants. The Lacey Act, which dates back to 1900, prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. In this way, Lacey strengthens and supports other federal, state, and foreign laws protecting wildlife by making it a separate offense to take, possess, transport, or sell wildlife that has been taken in violation of those laws.

He said, "What our legislation means is that, if wood has been stolen from a forest reserve in Brazil or taken without paying the appropriate royalties in Indonesia, the U.S. government will now have the authority to prevent its importation into the United States and punish those responsible. This bill is designed to go after the worst of the worst. It asks companies to take very basic responsibility that shouldn’t be a problem to any legitimate importers: know your sources and be able to document what species from what countries are you importing. Civil and criminal liability is limited only to those who don’t take due diligence or those who knowingly import illegal wood. This is a free-market solution, helping companies move to more responsible suppliers, instead of requiring burdensome inspections or certifications..."

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony (
click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 1497 (click here). [*Land]