When it comes to protecting the environment, the wood products industry has a bad — and undeserved — reputation. And it is almost entirely our fault. Remember the ‘80s and ‘90s and the “clear-cut” wars of the Pacific Northwest and the spotted owl? I do. It’s when I was just getting started in this industry.

Well it certainly feels like déjà vu all over again…During the fight to fix the Lacey Act, there were some on the other side who made our industry the proverbial “poster child” of illegal logging. Unfairly or not, we were simply out-positioned on messaging. Once again, that’s our fault.

As I’ve pointed out, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Years of misinformation have diverted the public’s attention away from the greatest threats to forests, which stem from subsistence farming, cattle ranching and fires, and focused it squarely on us.

Well, those days are over and the fight to fix Lacey has just begun.

The fact is, as written, Lacey undermines our industry’s efforts to preserve the world’s forests. And no player in the Lacey debate is more dependent on thriving, sustainable, vibrant forests than the wood products industry. Our very livelihoods depend on the forests’ continued health and worldwide preservation. This fact is just as true in North Carolina and Oregon, as it is in Brazil, Malaysia and Ghana.

Lacey’s critical shortcomings are well known by now, and the fixes are simple. You don’t have to look further than the Gibson Guitar case to see one glaring issue. According to the settlement, “The Government and Gibson acknowledge and agree that certain questions and inconsistencies now exist regarding the tariff classification” of the ebony and rosewood fingerboard “blanks” that were confiscated.

That is the paradox of the 2008 Lacey Act Amendments. The folks who drafted the law sought to give federal agencies the power to go after criminal enterprises that were knowingly trading in illegally sourced wood. But by making the scope of laws and products covered by Lacey so vast, they are creating unknowing and unintended “criminals” out of honest, law-abiding business owners and consumers, and paradoxically weakening global efforts to combat illegal logging.

Here’s why: According to Holly Gibbs, a research fellow at Stanford’s Center on Food Security and Environment, cattle ranching and agriculture account for 95-97% of all deforestation worldwide, while logging represents only 2-3%. And legal loggers are the only people who replant the trees after they cut them down, assuring these forests remain as forests, not burned down and turned into cattle pastures.

This simple fact is our simple message, and one I’ve made for years. Legal loggers are the stewards of the world’s forests. We have to be. Our lives depend on it.

This message is true, it’s direct and there is overwhelming evidence that such a straightforward and transparent approach will work. According to its website, “Ducks Unlimited is the world’s leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation. Its mission: habitat conservation. Thanks to decades of abiding by that single mission, Ducks Unlimited is now the world’s largest … wetlands conservation organization.” They are also the world’s largest water fowl-shooting organization … which is why they fight for the preservation of the world’s wetlands. See the parallel?

It won’t be easy. There are decades of misinformation for us to counter. But counter it we will. While our fight to fix Lacey is about fairness and about jobs, it is first and foremost about preserving the forests. We prefer to see a future of forests, not fires.

Brent McClendon is the Executive Director of the International Wood Products Association. For information on the association, visit iwpawood.org.

Related Content
Blog: Why U.S. Woodworkers Should Support the Lacey Act 10-26-12

Gibson Guitar CEO Speaks Out on Lacey Settlement 8-8-12

Blog: Little Fanfare for Lacey Vote Cancellation 7-30-12

Blog: Battle Lines Drawn for Amending Lacey Act 11-4-11

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