Indigenous Groups and NRDC Sue to Stop Contraband Shipments; Three U.S Agencies and Three Private U.S. Importers Named in Suit

WASHINGTON (June 6, 2006) -- The Department of Homeland Security and two other federal agencies are allowing contraband Peruvian mahogany to enter the United States, according to a lawsuit filed today by two Peruvian indigenous groups and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S.-based conservation organization. The suit was filed in the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York City.

Used mostly in luxury furniture, nearly all of Peru's mahogany exports are logged illegally, the groups say, and more than 80 percent of the contraband timber ends up in the United States. Unchecked logging in the Amazon threatens native communities, wildlife, and survival of the mahogany species itself. At the current pace, experts predict that mahogany will be commercially extinct within a decade.

"Millions of dollars worth of Peruvian mahogany enters U.S. ports every year in violation of U.S. and international law," said Ari Hershowitz, NRDC's Latin America BioGems project director. "While U.S. border control agencies look the other way, the rainforest and the communities that depend on them to survive are being plundered."

In addition to the Department of Homeland Security, NRDC and two Peruvian groups -- Native Federation of Madre de Dios (FENAMAD) and Racimos de Ungurahui -- sued the Department of Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture, and three U.S. importers: Bozovich Timber Products of Evergreen, Alabama; T. Baird International Corporation of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; and TBM Hardwoods of Hanover, Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit charges that importing the mahogany violates the U.S. Endangered Species Act and a major international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). It calls for the federal agencies to stop all illegally traded Peruvian mahogany from entering the United States, and for importers to forfeit illegally imported Peruvian mahogany already in the country.

The action follows an effort by NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife to ensure that leading furniture manufacturers, including Stickley, Furniture Brands International, Henkel-Harris and Hekman, do not use Peruvian mahogany in their products.

"Tens of thousands of tons of Peruvian mahogany are imported into the U.S. for luxury dining room tables, household trimmings and automobile dashboards," said Hershowitz. "But Americans have no idea that buying mahogany contributes to the destruction of the rainforest and threatens the people who live there. Until this dire situation in Peru is addressed, we're asking consumers not to buy it."

By eliminating the lucrative market for contraband mahogany, NRDC and its partners hope to spur Peruvian logging industry reform and put an end to illegal logging.

"Illegal loggers are invading the territories of our indigenous brothers, who live in voluntary isolation, to plunder the natural resources in their reserve, putting them at risk from disease and violence," said Victor Kamena Manuaje, vice president of FENAMAD, a coalition of 27 indigenous Peruvian communities. "Our claim is just and supported by the law -- to get respect for our right to life and our territory."

FENAMAD has been fighting for years to stop illegal mahogany logging and other destructive industrial activity in native reserves set aside for isolated peoples. Meanwhile, Racimos de Ungurahui, a national indigenous rights group based in Lima, Peru, has played a key role in lobbying the Peruvian government to set aside territories for indigenous peoples.

NRDC first proposed international protections for mahogany in 1992, and launched a BioGem campaign in 2002 to protect the last remaining stands of mahogany in Peru. (For more information about NRDC's BioGem Initiative, go to www.savebiogems.org.)

NRDC and its two Peruvian partners are being represented by Robert A. Bourque of the prominent national law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, along with NRDC counsel. "The stakes in this case relate not only to the survival of Peruvian mahogany," Bourque said, "but also to the integrity of the Endangered Species Act and international law."