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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Lacey Act: Protecting the Environment by Restricting Trade

Kristina Alexander
Legislative Attorney

The Lacey Act was enacted in 1900 to prevent hunters from killing game in one state and escaping prosecution by crossing state lines. It has evolved into a law that prohibits import, export, transport, purchase, or sale of species when that action would violate state, federal, tribal, or foreign law. Congress amended the Lacey Act most recently in 2008, expanding the reach of the act to include timber and timber products. Implementation of the 2008 Amendments has proved controversial, and the Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) initially delayed implementing the act’s new declaration requirements for importing wood products.

Some find the Lacey Act puzzling. While people charged with violating the act are charged with violating a U.S. law, that prosecution is premised on a violation of another law, sometimes the law of another country. That has led some to claim that the United States is enforcing the laws of another country. U.S. conservation laws (such as the Lacey Act), however, have long protected species and habitats even outside of the United States. Worldwide conservation was one reason for expanding Lacey Act coverage to more plants in 2008. Preserving U.S. timber jobs and prices was another reason. However, the 2008 Amendments allow enforcement of foreign laws that are not directly related to conservation or U.S. jobs, such as failure to pay foreign stumpage fees, or shipping wood in violation of a country’s export restrictions. After search warrants were executed by the Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) against Gibson Guitar Corp. of Nashville, TN, apparently based on the possible illegal import of wood from India, Congress has taken another look at whether the 2008 Amendments achieve the goals of the Lacey Act. As introduced in October 2011, H.R. 3210 would amend the act to limit its application to wood imported prior to 2008 and composite wood products, and would allow an innocent owner defense to forfeiture actions. A different approach is taken by H.R. 4171/S. 2062, which would eliminate any reference to violations of foreign laws and end criminal prosecutions for violating the act.

Date of Report: April 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R42067
Price: $29.95

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