What the Lacey Act means for you

Issue Date: November 3/10, 2008


Amendments to the U.S. Lacey Act give the government power to fine and jail individuals and companies that - knowingly or unknowingly - traffic illegally harvested wood products. The new law and import declaration it mandates will directly affect all aspects of the imported wood flooring industry.

In June 2008, the amendments were passed into law as a result of a collaboration and coordination among environmental groups, industry organizations and government experts. Penalties include civil and criminal fines, forfeiture of trafficked goods and imprisonment. A Lacey Act violation may also trigger charges of smuggling and/or money laundering, according to the Environmental Crimes Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Under the Lacey Act, if a tree is illegally harvested in one country, and wood products from this tree are brought into the U.S., anyone in the supply chain may be prosecuted including the harvester, processor, exporter, importer, wholesaler, retailer and the consumer, according to Michael Guzman, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Further, a defendant need not be the one who violated the foreign law; the timber, and the products made from the illegal timber become tainted even if someone else commits the foreign law violation, according to Guzman.


As a result of the amendments to the Lacey Act, the Department of Justice anticipates that U.S. companies importing plants, timber and wood products will make greater efforts to ensure that their products are legal, and an increasing number of companies are voluntarily participating in certification programs, Guzman said.

The law applies to a broad range of imported wood products and species, far beyond the endangered species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said R. Juge Gregg, an attorney specializing in supply chain management. The Lacey amendment implements a full range of legal issues with illegally harvested, traded, shipped or imported timber and covers all species of wood from the most endangered to the most common through the means by which it is taken. "You can't say this species is legal or not; that's not the issue," Gregg explained. "It all depends on how it was harvested. If there is some sort of illegality in the chain of trade from harvesting through shipping - if someone is harvesting beyond their allotment or not paying taxes or smuggling it out at night - it is covered by the statute as written."

So what does it all mean for suppliers, distributors and retailers of wood flooring? Two words, Gregg said - due diligence. For example, sourcing issues with merbau have been well documented and while the species itself is not illegal, he said, the methods of harvesting it in certain countries can be illegal.

While Lacey does focus on illegal harvesting, other legalities are also covered such as taxes, falsifying trans-shipping labels, or bribery for timber harvesting permits. "As a member of the trade, I'd want to know as much about my wood sourcing as possible," Gregg said. "Unfortunately, there are no categorical answers on this."

Federal agencies including the Departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security are working together to implement and enforce the new Lacey provisions and regulations, scheduled to become effective on Dec. 15, 2008.

But the implementation timeframe is more likely to be closer to April 1, 2009, at which time U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will have electronic processing in place. "Given the volume of trade, [paper documentation] would create a terrible backlog so it appears the date will perhaps be later and paper declarations will be accepted voluntarily," said Brenda Jacobs, an attorney with Sidley Austin who specializes in international trade and retail.

Guidelines will be published in four to six weeks on the agency website and phase-in regulation of different products by harmonized tariff system codes is likely, Jacobs added.


Country of Origin (by Species)