Flooring professionals might not think that activity in Washington affects them or their businesses directly, but important legislation was implemented this past summer that affects many NFT readers. The Lacey Act, which originally was enacted more than 100 years ago to prevent the illegal trafficking of wildlife throughout the world, has been expanded to include wood and wood products. Specifically, Congress last year passed a ban on the import, sale or trade of wood and other forest products that are harvested illegally outside the United States.
Because this legislation affects a great number of industries, including flooring, furniture, cabinets, and paper, the National Wood Flooring Association worked with a coalition of industry leaders to promote the ban. The coalition included the Hardwood Federation, the International Wood Products Association, the National Hardwood Lumber Association, and the American Forest & Paper Association. Together, these organizations offered a unified voice in Washington, D.C., on behalf of wood and wood products professionals all over the world.
In Washington, the legislation was championed by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and Senator Ron Wyden, both from Oregon. The House and Senate Agricultural Committees and the House Natural Resources Committee also worked to promote the legislation, which received support from both political parties in Congress.
This legislation represents a huge accomplishment for the wood products industry because it not only protects our world’s forests, but it also protects industry representatives who practice their due diligence when purchasing wood products from other countries. With this legislation, the United States has stated clearly that it will no longer tolerate the destruction of our world’s forests through illegal logging. In addition, for the first time, the burden of proof for the legal harvesting of wood is placed on the country of origin, not the purchaser of the product. Failure to comply with the new legislation – either intentionally or unintentionally – can result in confiscation of the material in question, fines of up to $500,000, and jail time of up to five years.
The ban is also a huge step toward leveling the playing field for U.S. manufacturers in terms of pricing and global competition. Low-cost, illegally harvested wood products have flooded the flooring market in recent years, driving down prices and quality. With this new legislation, wood products entering the United States will be checked more closely, with each importing country’s tariff laws and rebate policies being monitored.
The new law took effect in December of last year (2008), but is being enforced only on a voluntary basis. Mandatory implementation is expected to begin in April when electronic monitoring and processing will be available.
The strong support this legislation received reaffirms for the world that the United States is committed to protecting our environment, not just here domestically but globally as well. At the same time, these laws help ensure that the natural resources that provide our livelihood will be available for generations to come. Still, while the legislation protects the world’s forests, it does nothing to recognize those companies that practice responsible forest management.
To address this issue, the NWFA established an Environmental Committee and developed the Responsible Procurement Program. Its mission is to harness the power of the U.S. wood flooring industry in an effort to recognize and promote environmentally and socially responsible forest management in timber supply regions.
As it developed the program, the committee worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to study the renewability of our nation’s forests. The study concluded that all forests in the 33 states east of the Mississippi River are sustainably managed. This is significant information because these forests supply the vast majority of U.S. hardwood. It is also worth noting that more than 80% of hardwood forest land in the US is privately owned. There are approximately 4 million private forest owners in the U.S. with an average forest measuring about 20 hectares. In most cases, lumber sales from these privately owned forests occur only once a generation. To verify that all these forests were being managed renewably was a huge achievement, especially in light of the Lacey Act legislation that has just passed.
This study with the USDA Forest Service led to the development of the NWFA’s Responsible Procurement Program, a voluntary program that recognizes sustainable forest management, and includes three tiers of increasing participation and certification:
Tier One recognizes those companies that source their wood from one of the 33 states identified in the USDA Forest Service study. The program, which is completely voluntary, allows manufacturers that make wood flooring from raw materials originating from one of these 33 states to carry a seal that says “NWFA Verified from US Renewing Forests.” This will let consumers know that the domestically sourced wood they are buying did not deplete the world’s forests. For imported products, a “Verified Legal Imported” seal is available for companies that practice due diligence when importing products from other countries.
Tier Two recognizes those companies that source their wood from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests. Companies participating at this level must meet all FSC standards for the products they source – for both FSC-certified and non-FSC-certified wood – and must agree to increase their overall use of FSC-certified wood during the next two years.
Tier Three recognizes those companies that source more than 50% of their wood from FSC-certified forests, and whose non-FSC sourced materials meet all FSC guidelines.
While the NWFA will sponsor the RPP, it was crafted with the help of several key partners including Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) U.S., and the FSC Family Forests Alliance. The NWFA has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with both FSC-U.S. and the FSC Family Forest Alliance to implement the program. Compliance with all program guidelines will be monitored by SCS to maintain the intent and integrity of the program.
To kick off this new initiative, the NWFA recently invited all of its manufacturer members to attend a Hardwood Assembly at its international headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., in December. Full details of the RPP were presented to the group with several large manufacturers signing up to participate.
For more information about the Lacey Act, the NWFA RPP, or the NWFA Hardwood Assembly, contact the NWFA.