Farm bill is a diamond in the rough

Lacey Act amendment is a powerful new tool to stop illegal logging

Feature story - May 24, 2008
The Lacey Act has been protecting wildlife for over 100 years by ensuring that America will not engage in the illegal trafficking of animals, and now that same protection has been granted to wild plant life by the recently passed 2007 farm bill.

Though the farm bill itself is not worthy of much applause, it does contain a provision that amends the Lacey Act to include wild plants, including trees from natural forests and plantations, and that is most certainly cause for celebration. With wild plant life under the protective umbrella of the Lacey Act, we now have a powerful new tool for campaigning against the destruction of Earth's invaluable ancient forests, as it has become illegal for Americans to import wood and wood products (such as paper and furniture) that were harvested in violation of foreign law.

Carroll Muffett, Greenpeace USA deputy campaigns director, welcomed the new law, calling it "one of the most important pieces of forest legislation passed in this country in decades."

While the chief aim of the new law is to make illegal logging operations less profitable, it has the potential to save more than just the millions of acres of forest that are cut down every year by loggers operating outside of the law. Illegal logging operations devastate entire local ecologies, for instance, harming not just the animals who call the forests home but also the nearby communities that must deal with forest fires in their backyard and the utter environmental destruction of the land they depend on. Illegal logging also hurts U.S. businesses, who lose an estimated $1 billion every year to the illicit foreign competition. Perhaps worst of all, illegal logging contributes to global warming by producing massive amounts of carbon emissions.

Greenpeace has worked tirelessly to stop illegal logging operations, but there are often legal loopholes that undercut our efforts and allow logging to continue under the pretense of legality. A report we released last year showed that over 37 million acres of rainforest (an area roughly the size of Illinois) in Africa's Congo basin had been opened to the logging industry despite a moratorium on new logging that has been in place since 2002. The usefulness of the Lacey Act being broadened to prevent the importation of illegally produced wood and wood products into the US, one of the world's biggest markets for consumer goods, can not be understated.

Though the farm bill had a rocky road to travel in the course of being signed into law, the illegal logging provision had the support of a diverse coalition of conservation, industry, social justice, and labor groups - not to mention baby orangutans (who are ecstatic that they won't be orphaned when their home is illegally razed to the ground).

"The Lacey Act amendments are a critical first step in bringing illegal logging under control," said Muffett. "That this step is buried in the legislative three-ring circus of the farm bill doesn't detract from its significance."