The Lacey Act is a 1900 United States law that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife. In 2008, the Act was amended to include plants and plant products such as timber and paper. This landmark legislation is the world’s first ban on trade in illegally sourced wood products.
There are two major components to the plant amendments: a ban on trading plants or plant products harvested in violation of the law; and a requirement to declare the scientific name, value, quantity, and country of harvest origin for some products.
The Lacey Act is a fact-based statute with strict liability, which means that only actual legality counts (no third-party certification or verification schemes can be used to "prove" legality under the Act) and that violators of the law can face criminal and civil sanctions even if they did not know that they were dealing with an illegally harvested product.
Penalties for violating the Lacey Act vary in severity based on the violator's level of knowledge about the product: penalties are higher for those who knew they were trading in illegally harvested materials. For those who did not know, penalties vary based on whether the individual or company in question did everything possible to determine that the product was legal. In the U.S. system, this is called "due care," and is a legal concept designed to encourage flexibility in the marketplace.
More information from various U.S. government sources regarding the definition and exercise of due care include the following:
- “Lacey Act Primer”, a presentation from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (slides 17-21)
- Ninth Circuit Model Criminal Jury Instructions, a Lacey Act-specific set of jury instructions that many other sources have found useful in explaining due care
Enforcement to date
The Lacey Act has a long history of successful enforcement as a wildlife statute, and over a century of case law on these older provisions of the Act is readily available. The plant product amendments have been used in three enforcement cases to date: two regarding a major U.S. guitar manufacturer, and one related to a small business.
Other U.S. Government Documents and Links
The Plant and Plant Product Declaration Form (PDF, 349 Kb) is required for many types of plant and plant product imports into the United States. (To see whether a particular type of plant product is covered by this requirement, check the declaration form phase-in schedule.)
In order to fill out the declaration form correctly, importers generally need to know the scientific name of the wood species being imported. Search the Common Name Database operated by the Forest Service to look up the scientific names of tree species used in wood products.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has information on the amended Lacey Act, along with useful CBP guidance on Lacey Act declarations.
The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a primary implementing agency for the amended Lacey Act. See APHIS’s website for a wealth of information on the Lacey Act, including FAQs, guidance on import declarations, and direct contact information. The site also offers the opportunity to be registered as a stakeholder in the declaration requirement implementation process and receive regular updates from APHIS.
View the 9/2/09 Federal Register on the Lacey Act. Includes most current declaration phase-in schedule.
View the comments on the Federal Register.