The amount of illegally harvested wood from South America and Asia available for export to the United States is smaller today than it was six years ago due to a change in U.S. law, finds new research by U.S. Forest Service economist Jeff Prestemon.
In a study on the effect of a 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act, a U.S. wildlife protection and anti-trafficking law, Prestemon found that the prices of lumber and hardwood plywood imports into the United States from suspected illegal wood fiber source countries have increased and their quantities have decreased since the enactment of the 2008 Lacey Act Amendment, indicating a decrease in export supply in these countries.
Prestemon used monthly import data from 1989 to 2013 to evaluate the effects of the 2008 amendment.
“These findings are evidence that the amendment has met at least some of its advocates’ objectives,” said Prestemon.
The original Lacey Act of 1900 focused on wildlife, with later amendments expanding to plants, including trees and wood products. The Lacey Act Amendment of 2008 was enacted to cut the global demand for illegally obtained timber products, and includes for the first time any tree species illegally obtained in the country of origin and any product, such as wood, paper, or pulp, containing illegally obtained material.
“There has been growing distress around the world about the negative effects of illegal fiber sourcing, including logging, on forests, people, wildlife, and the rule of law in countries suspected of producing such wood in large quantities,” says Prestemon.
The U.S. consumes a small share of wood from countries with high rates of illegal timber, but having illegal wood on global markets depresses wood prices globally and that affects U.S. producers, says Prestemon.
“In the U.S. and elsewhere, timber growers and wood product manufacturers have been concerned about the effects of illegal logging on their market prices and market shares, in both domestic and foreign markets,” he said.
The Lacey Act makes it a crime to import onto U.S. territory or to transport across state lines any illegally obtained plant or animal species or product made with them.
Prestemon says more study is needed before we can judge the 2008 amendment as a complete success in reducing illegal wood sourcing.
“First and foremost we need to understand to what extent illegal producers have diverted their illegally sourced fiber exports away from the U.S. and toward countries that don’t have such trade measures,” said Prestemon.
“Second, we need to look at possible substitutions within countries suspected of illegal sourcing, where producers decide to only export legal fiber but still illegally produce, diverting those products toward domestic consumers in their own markets,” he said.