by Michael Connor

Illegal logging and tropical deforestation are the focus of two newly-announced but separate initiatives – one focusing on the legal risk to companies that buy illegally harvested wood, the other highlighting potential rewards to American business of U.S. legislation that would help end illegal logging and tropical deforestation.

The Forest Legality Alliance was launched by a consortium of public and private organizations to “ensure that importers and supply chains know and understand the emerging new trade policies” and to “help companies assess the risk of encountering illegal wood.”

“Some companies are not aware of the need to ask questions about the wood they are buying or the consequences of letting illegal wood enter their supply chains,” said Craig Hanson, director of the People and Ecosystems Program at the World Resources Institute, one of the organizers of the Forest Legality Alliance. “The Alliance seeks to build confidence that imported wood and paper products are legal. Done right, trade supports environmental protection and the Alliance recognizes the role trade plays in protecting our world’s great forests.”

In addition to the World Resources Institute, other organizations in the Alliance are the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA-U.S.), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the American Forest & Paper Association, the Hardwood Federation, IKEA, the International Wood Products Association, NewPage Corporation, the Retail Industry Leaders’ Association, Staples Inc., and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

The Lacey Act

The Alliance said that much of the illegal logging taking place occurs when forests are cleared to make room for agriculture and ranching activities.  “This illegal logging contributes to deforestation, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions, deprives nations of much needed public revenue, and can lead to social conflict and human rights violations,” the Alliance said.


Illegal rosewood stockpiles in Antalaha, Madagascar

In 2008, the U.S. government amended the Lacey Act to prohibit trade within the United States of products made from illegally harvested wood, making the U.S. the first country to ban imports of illegal wood and related products.  According to the law firm Sidley Austin, the Lacey Act extends the reach of foreign laws and regulations by making it a violation of U. S. law to traffic in products made from wood that was harvested, transported or sold in violation of foreign laws – such as forest management laws and regulations in producer countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, China, and Laos.

The European Union is in the final stages of approving a “due diligence” regulation to curb illegal timber entering the European market, and Australia is also considering legislation to prohibit trade in illegal wood, according to the Alliance.

In November 2009, agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local police seized wood, guitars, computers and boxes of files from a Gibson Guitar manufacturing facility in Nashville, Tennessee.  Sources told the Nashville Post the company was being investigated for violating the Lacey Act for importing endangered species of rosewood from Madagascar.

At the time, the company said it was “fully cooperating” with the investigation.  Gibson added that it is a “chain of custody certified buyer who purchases wood from legal suppliers who are to follow all standards.”  In addition, the company noted then that Gibson Guitar Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz sits on the board of the Rainforest Alliance and “takes the issue of certification very seriously. ”  Mr. Juszkiewicz reportedly took a leave a leave of absence from the Rainforest Alliance board following the raid.

Deforestation and U.S. Competitiveness

Separately, a coalition of U.S. farm and forest products groups called on Congress and the Obama administration to adopt “comprehensive energy and climate legislation and other policies” to help end tropical deforestation.

Members of the group include the National Farmers Union, the American Forest & Paper Association, the United Steelworkers (representing forest products workers), and the Ohio Corn Growers Association.   (The American Forest & Paper Association is also a member of the Forest Legality Alliance.)

The groups cited a new report showing that “overseas agriculture and logging operations are expanding production by cutting down the world’s rainforests, allowing them to flood the world market with cheap commodities that undercut American goods.”

The report, Farms Here, Forests There: Tropical Deforestation and U.S. Competitiveness in Agriculture and Timber,” estimates that ending deforestation will boost revenue for U.S. producers by between $196-$267 billion by 2030 – “approximately equivalent to the entire amount projected to be spent by farmers on energy during that time.”

“Saving rainforests isn’t just for treehuggers anymore,” said Fred Yoder of the Ohio Corn Growers Association, immediate past president of the National Corn Growers Association.  “It is in all of our best interests to protect forests.”

“Continued rampant illegal logging in tropical countries shows we need to strengthen law enforcement efforts to allow Americans to compete on a level playing field,” said Donna Harman, President of the American Forest & Paper Association.  “At the same time, protecting tropical forests through offsets can provide an affordable way for the forest products industry and other manufacturers to keep energy costs affordable as we address climate change.”

“America is losing many thousands of jobs because of illegal logging and tropical deforestation at a time when instead we should be growing jobs here at home,” said Keith Romig, Strategic Issues Representative for the United Steelworkers. “Any climate policy that aims to protect American jobs also has to protect tropical forests.”

Photo: Erik Patel, Wikimedia Commons

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