Congress: Bad on Lemurs, Bad on Jobs [UPDATED]

, former policy analyst, Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative | July 23, 2012, 3:08 pm EDT
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Have you heard the news about lemurs? No, I’m not referring to the commercial success of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. This is much, much worse.

Unhappy lemur

This lemur is NOT happy. It may have something to do with the fact that over 90% of lemur species are threatened with extinction. (Flickr/Luca Mortellaro)

A report released last week by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (the folks who are experts on this kind of stuff, and like UCS, not an actual union) found that about 95 percent of the 103 lemur species are or should be on their Red List of Threatened Species. Since a coup in Madagascar in 2009, there has been a major increase in illegal logging which severely threatens lemurs’ habitats.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress seems to be doing about all it can to gut one of the few laws we have to help protect lemurs and other tropical species.

Congress and Lacey

Back in April, I wrote a post about a congressional briefing we held to highlight the release of our report Logging and the Law, and also mentioned that the Lacey Act was under threat in the House of Representatives. Since April, this seemingly small threat has become a serious one. The anti-Lacey bill, titled the Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness (RELIEF) Act has been rapidly making its way through Congress.

The RELIEF Act was introduced in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raiding Gibson Guitars, as part of the Justice Department’s case against the company for allegedly importing illegal rosewood from Madagascar. Since then RELIEF has expanded to include not only hardwood products (like guitars) but also paper and pulp products. Despite a hearing in May, which featured industry, environmental, and musicians’ testimony against RELIEF, the House Natural Resources Committee voted in favor of the bill. Because, of course, when the regulated industry, environmental groups, former Bush Administration officials, and celebrities support a law, the first thing Congress should do is gut it (by the way, that’s sarcasm, folks).

Lacey good, RELIEF bad

Fallen tree

The Lacey Act makes it a crime to import illegally harvested wood. (Flickr/tybeeney)

What’s this law that Congress is so eager to demolish? The hundred-year-old Lacey Act makes it a criminal offense to import illegally harvested animal products. In 2008, Congress amended the law to include the import of timber and wood products. This was a ground-breaking step. Illegal logging not only harms forest ecosystems and animal habitat, it’s also associated with other criminal activities like drug and human trafficking, and hurts U.S. industries by making domestic companies compete with stolen timber. Essentially it prevents Best Buy from having to compete with a dude who sells iPods out of his van.

Since stopping illegal logging is such a win-win, it’s no surprise that the 2008 efforts to amend Lacey had bipartisan support (including President Bush) and strong support of both industry and environmental groups.


What is a surprise is that, despite the continued effort of the diverse supporters of the Lacey Act, Congress continues to move ahead with RELIEF. It’s still not clear why Congress is pushing this so hard. It might have something to do with Gibson’s continued lobbying efforts to modify the Lacey Act, or it might be something else. Congress works in mysterious ways (when it works at all).

Regardless of the reason, The House of Representatives is planning to bring RELIEF to the House floor for a vote next week as a part of a broader “Anti-Regulation” themed week.

Things are moving fast, but there is still time to make a difference.  Please take a couple of minutes to send your member of Congress a message asking them to vote “No” on the RELIEF Act (H.R. 3210).

Remember, you’re doing it for the lemurs.


[UPDATE] Over the last few weeks there have two major victories in the fight to defend the Lacey Act.  The first victory came on July 27 when Congressional leadership canceled the scheduled vote for the RELIEF Act. With Congress only in session for a handful of days before the November election, this move has essentially killed the RELIEF Act, leaving the Lacey Act free from imminent Congressional threat.

The second victory came last Monday when Gibson Guitars admitted to violating the Lacey Act in a settlement with the US Justice Department. This settlement brings to a close the case that prompted the introduction of the RELIEF Act and marks a successful end to the US Governments first attempt to enforce the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act.

lemur sticking out its tongue

This lemur has a message for Congress… Vote “No” on the RELIEF Act. (Flickr/Tambako the Jaguar)

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  • Joan Columbus

    Preserving the wonderful diversity of life forms on our extraordinary planet is important in order to maintain the web of life needed to sustain us all. Please vote no on the Relief Act.