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Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Lacey Act: Protecting the Environment by Restricting Trade

Kristina Alexander 
Legislative Attorney

The Lacey Act was enacted in 1900 to prevent hunters from illegally 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 to the Lacey Act 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, in August 2011, based on the possible illegal import of wood from India, the 112
th Congress took another look at whether the 2008 Amendments achieve the goals of the Lacey Act. Three bills of the 112th Congress would have limited Lacey Act enforcement related to imports. H.R. 3210 would have restricted how the Lacey Act applied to wood imported prior to 2008 and composite wood products, and would have allowed an innocent owner defense to forfeiture actions. H.R. 4171/S. 2062 would have eliminated any reference to violations of foreign laws and ended criminal prosecutions for violating the Lacey Act.

In July 2012, Gibson settled charges that imports in 2008 and 2009 had violated the Lacey Act, agreeing to pay a $300,000 penalty, make a $50,000 donation to a wildlife nonprofit group, and withdraw its claims to recover wood forfeited during all investigations, including claims related to a 2011 seizure for which Lacey Act charges had not been brought. As part of the settlement, the United States agreed that Indian trade law, on which the alleged 2011 violations were based, was unclear. However, Gibson admitted that it had continued to import ebony from Madagascar after learning that it was illegal.

Date of Report: April 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R42067
Price: $29.95

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