Legal Storm Gathers over Unlawful Wood Imports

TUCSON (April 5, 2006) -- Twenty U.S. hardwood lumber companies came under fire today from conservationists and native peoples for importing Peruvian mahogany the groups say is taken illegally from the Amazon rainforest.

The challenge came on opening day of the International Wood Products Association's (IWPA) annual convention at a Tucson golf course resort.

Representatives from the Navajo and Hopi Nations, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Center for Biological Diversity held a press briefing calling on association members to stop importing Peruvian mahogany until the companies can document that the wood was cut lawfully. Today nearly all of Peru's mahogany exports are logged illegally, according to NRDC, and more than 80 percent of the timber ends up in the United States, mostly for luxury furniture.

"Millions of dollars worth of Peruvian mahogany enters U.S. ports every year in violation of U.S. and international law," said Ani Youatt of NRDC's Latin America BioGems campaign. "While U.S. importers and border control agencies are looking the other way, the rainforest is being decimated and the lives of native people are in jeopardy."

At the current pace of logging, experts predict that mahogany will be commercially extinct within five to 10 years. "Illegal logging is driving dozens of birds and mammals to extinction," said Kieran Suckling, policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "American corporations have the power to stop illegal logging by refusing to buy the wood; instead they are encouraging it. Shame on them."

The illegal mahogany comes from government-protected natural areas and reserves set aside for nomadic tribes that have little or no contact with the outside world. Armed loggers have been invading these remote Peruvian Amazon regions, cutting down the forest, devastating wildlife, and shooting and killing indigenous people. Peru's efforts to control illegal logging are undermined by timber companies that falsify permits and documents, manipulate the national forestry computer database, and misrepresent the locations and quantities of mahogany in their concessions.

NRDC and Peruvian Groups to Sue U.S. Mahogany Importers, Federal Agencies

As a part of its BioGems Initiative -- which enlists the help of hundreds of thousands of citizens to save the Western Hemisphere's most endangered natural places -- NRDC has been working for years to protect the last remaining stands of mahogany in Peru. (For more information about NRDC's BioGem Initiative, go to www.savebiogems.org.)

In mid-March, NRDC and two Peruvian groups -- Native Federation of Madre de Dios (FENAMAD) and Racimos de Ungurahui -- announced they will sue the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Interior Department, and Department of Agriculture, and four private U.S. importers: Bozovich Timber Products of Evergreen, Alabama; Maderera Gutierrez of Gulf Shores, Alabama; T. Baird International Corporation from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; and TBM Hardwoods of Hanover, Pennsylvania. (For more information about the lawsuit, click here.)

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). The CITES treaty tightened international protection for mahogany in November 2003, a move backed by the Bush administration as a centerpiece of its initiative against illegal logging. Since then, however, the administration has done little to implement the treaty, and the United States remains the biggest mahogany importer in the world.

On March 10, NRDC and its Peruvian partners issued a letter announcing the lawsuit. Under the Endangered Species Act, the government agencies and the private importers named in the suit have 60 days to comply with the law before NRDC and its partners take legal action. The suit calls for the federal agencies to stop all illegally traded mahogany from entering the United States, and for the importers to forfeit illegally imported Peruvian mahogany wood already in the United States.

NRDC released a letter from FENAMAD at the press briefing today detailing the devastating impact that illegal logging has on their native communities. The letter calls on importers "not to buy illegally logged wood from Peru's Amazon without ensuring compliance with international treaties and providing guarantees for the rights and lives of our indigenous brothers who are in danger."

Robert Tohe, a member of the Navajo Nation and a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer, appeared at today's press briefing to voice his solidarity with native Peruvians. "As an indigenous person from the Northern Hemisphere, I support efforts to prevent illegal imports that threaten the well-being of groups in Peru," he said. "We will not stand by and let this happen. In the meantime, Americans should not be buying mahogany products. I support my relatives and their right to live as they have for hundreds of years."

Besides the four U.S. importers named in the lawsuit, the following 16 U.S. companies imported mahogany from Peru in 2005, according to CITES export permits obtained by NRDC from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Alan Mcilvain Co., Banks Hardwoods Florida, Dan K. Moore Lumber Co., Downes & Reader Hardwood, Fine Woods Products, Inter-Continental Hardwoods, J. Gibson Mcilvain Co., Lane Stanton Vance Lumber, Medley Hardwoods, Overseas Tropical Lumber, Patriot Timber Products, Precious Tropical Hardwoods, Rex Lumber Co., South Florida Lumber Co., Specialty Woods Inc., and Thompson Mahogany Co.