Northland Forest Products chief executive Jameson S. French, who helped push for the 2008 amendment, said the measure “sent the message to the global business community that the U.S. meant business about no illegal wood products being brought into this country.”
The American Forest and Paper Association estimates that illegal logging costs the U.S. timber and wood products industry $1 billion a year, and it opposes any immediate change to the Lacey Act. French said America’s grade lumber exports have soared in recent years as overseas suppliers look for hardwood products that can reenter the United States without a problem.
The environmental stakes are high as well. National parks in Madagascar have been decimated by illegal logging since a 2009 coup d’etat created political disarray there. In places such as Masoala National Park, a reserve affilated with the Zurich Zoo, poorly paid poachers create trails into the forest, consume forest lemurs and flying foxes to sustain themselves and fell five trees for every one of precious wood they take because ebony and rosewood timber cannot float on their own.
Part of the drive to retool the Lacey Act stems from its requirement that businesses take “due care” to ensure their suppliers were not violating the law in the wood’s country of origin. Langer calls the requirement “onerous.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who co-authored the 2008 amendment, said responsible businesses shouldn’t have a compliance problem. “The whole concept here was to promote people being more conscious of what happened in their supply chain,” he said.
Gibson and other major guitar manufacturers conducted a fact-finding mission in Madagascar in 2008. Taylor Guitars and Martin Guitars stopped obtaining wood from Madagascar, but according to an e-mail that has surfaced in the federal probe, a Gibson employee wrote that a local supplier could still obtain ebony from “the gray market.”
Juszkiewicz — who backs Cooper’s bill but is still seeking changes in it that would provide U.S. firms with greater certainty about what wood is acceptable to import — said he believes it is possible to obtain legitimately harvested wood from Madagascar. He said he decided to keep buying there because he doesn’t see “prohibition” as an answer. “How does that fix the problem?” he asked, adding that a better approach is to say, “We want to buy the wood from you, but we only want to buy the wood that’s good.”
Alexander Von Bismarck, who as executive director of the D.C.-based nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency documented the illegal timber trade in Madagascar, said the country doesn't need that kind of help.
“We found that the money that flows to the timber barons is systematically moved overseas while the logger in Madagascar gets a few dollars a day to break into a national park and steal wood,” he wrote in an e-mail. “That’s not supporting development, that’s just supporting crime.”
Research director Alice Crites contributed to this report.
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