Saying it helps to combat illegal logging and level the playing field for U.S. wood products manufacturers, a coalition of wood industry and environmental representatives voiced their continued support of the Lacey Act in a teleconference call held on Tuesday. Their goal, the group said, is to set the record straight on the illegal logging act and counteract the media frenzy following the Gibson Guitar raid.
On Aug. 24, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials conducted a court-ordered search on Gibson Guitar on suspicion of importing illegally logged Indian rosewood, a violation of the Lacey Act. Two years prior, authorities raided the music instrument manufacturer and seized ebony wood, parts and guitars that they alleged were illegally harvested from rainforests in Madagascar. While declaring his company’s innocence, Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz says instead that the Lacey Act has run amok, a claim that is garnering support from a number of high profile and political figures including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
Speaking in support of the Lacey Act, Jameson French, immediate past chairman of the Hardwood Federation and CEO of Northland Forest Products, said the rule has had a beneficial and direct impact on the woodworking industry by preventing the import of products made from illegally harvested timbers, which are often sold below market prices. Research by the American Forest and Paper Assn. has shown that illegal harvesting costs the United States $1 billion annually through lower prices and lost market opportunities. “[The amended Lacey Act] is a bill that has helped save American jobs since it was put in place in 2008,” French said.
Roy Houseman of the United Steelworkers, representing pulp and paper workers, agreed. He noted that many small businesses in the United States have closed in recent years, due in part to illegal foreign competition, including the former mill where he worked.
Andrea Johnson, forest campaign director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, also cited the benefits of the Lacey Act, noting that there are already in place a number of import compliance regulations for safety and security. “The Lacey Act extends this to security and safety for the worlds’ forests.”
“We need the protection of the Lacey Act [to ensure a] fair playing field” and enable U.S. manufacturers to complete with “artificially low prices from wood that comes in illegally,” said Mark Barford, executive director of the National Hardwood Lumber Assn. “I don’t see the need for legislative changes.”
Speaking from a wood products manufacturer’s perspective, Charlie Redden, supply chain manager for Taylor Guitars, said manufacturers need to be responsible in choosing their suppliers. He added that his company personally inspects the forests where the timber is logged, to ensure the legality of the operation. “We do the best possible to ensure the lumber is taken legally.”
Something, many claim, Gibson Guitars did not. And the subsequent publicity over claims “of SWAT teams breaking down doors and terrifying employees [during the raid] — is not the reality,” said Johnson, and “undermines the seriousness of environmental crimes.”
“Oh, it’s just wood. But the reality is illegal logging is a crime around the world. The reality is these are crimes that need to be seen as such,” she added.
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