U.S. Lacey Act Wins 2011 Future Policy Award

NEW YORK — The United States’ prohibition on smuggling of illegally harvested wood has won silver in the 2011 Future Policy Awards as one of the world’s most inspiring and innovative forest policies.

The three policies most effectively contributing to the conservation and sustainable development of forests for current and future generations were honored today by the World Future Council at UN Headquarters in New York.

Rwanda’s National Forest Policy claimed First, while the US Lacey Act with its 2008 amendment and The Gambia’s Community Forest Policy shared the Silver Award.

According to a press release by the World Future Council, “The second Silver Award went to the US Lacey Act amendment of 2008 which prohibits all trade in wood and plant products that are knowingly illegally sourced from a US state or any foreign country. ‘The Lacy Act enforces the environmental law of even the weakest of countries in the most powerful way. If all countries followed its example, environmental law would be globally enforced and our biosphere would be protected,’ says jury member Tewolde Berhan Egziabher, Director General, Environmental Protection Authority, Ethiopia and World Future Councillor. The strength of the Act lies in its ability to target and place responsibility on every stage of the timber supply chain. It has forced importers to take responsibility for their wood products and has already produced positive results in increasing due diligence assessments and demand for certified wood products.

Jan McAlpine, Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests, states: ‘Celebrating innovation to benefit the world’s forests is one of the primary objectives of the International Year of Forests, 2011. This year’s Future Policy Award recognises policies that have succeeded in translating a vision for a sustainable future into tangible action. The UNFF applauds the three winning governments in Rwanda, The Gambia and the US for their extraordinary sustainable forest management policies: incorporating social, environmental and economic actions into a sustainable future for their countries.’”

The Environmental Investigation Agency’s Executive Director, Alexander von Bismarck, commented; “we are honored to be here recognizing a landmark act that has had such an extraordinary effect on the ongoing battle against illegal logging. With the Lacey Act, the US is closing the door on illegal wood, and sending a huge signal that our market power will support both good governance and forest protection”.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-profit environmental organization based in Washington D.C., led the six year campaign to amend the Lacey Act. EIA conducted international undercover investigations to bring first hand evidence of the terrible social, environmental and economic impacts of illegal logging and wood smuggling to the U.S., and coordinated a broad coalition of environmental NGOs industry and policy makers to successfully pass the amendment in May of 2008. EIA continues its investigations into illegal timber trade around the world, including first hand research into illegal logging in Madagascar, which preceded the first Lacey Act enforcement action in 2009.

The amended Lacey Act is the first law in the world to prohibit trade in wood products made from trees that were illegally harvested.

In many of the world’s poorest countries, the majority of the timber is cut illegally. In 2008, Indonesia was loosing $4 billion a year in government revenues due to illegal logging according to its own estimates.

As a result of the international effort to curb trade in illegal logging, the practice is estimated to have decreased by over 20% worldwide, roughly the equivalent of preventing over 1 billion tons of CO2 from reaching the atmosphere. US imports of illegal timber have been steadily falling since 2007, and a recent Chatham house Report mentions that “[while] it cannot be assumed that the Lacey Act will ensure that all wood products imported from high-risk countries are of legal origin…it is likely that imports of illegally sourced wood products will fall further and faster in future in response to the new legislation”.

The Lacey Act of 1900 focused on wildlife trade and has been a leading tool in efforts to control smuggling of products derived from endangered species. The 2008 amendment added plants to this law, which made it applicable to the one trillion dollar global wood products industry.

The first enforcement action under the new law occurred in 2009, when a search warrant was executed on Gibson Guitars to investigate the import of ebony and rosewood from Madagascar. Madagascar was at the time shown to be loosing up to 300 trees a day from its national parks, the last habitat for unique species of Lemurs, birds, and chameleons.

You can find more information about the World Future Council and the award here:

Environmental Investigation Agency
PO Box 53343, Washington, DC 20009
Tel: +1 202 483 6621/ Fax: +1 202 986 8626