The Lacey Act: Protecting American Wildlife

180px-Phasianus_colchicus_2_tom_%28Lukasz_Lukasik%29.jpgThe recently passed Farm Bill included an amendment to the Lacey Act which extends protection to plants and trees illegally harvested outside of the U.S. TheLacey Act, named after congressman, Rep. John Lacey, the Congressman who introduced it, and signed into law in 1900, authorized the Secretary of the Interior to restore “game and other birds…where where they have become scarce or extinct and to regulate the introduction of birds and animals in areas where they had not existed.”
U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said, “This critical provision gives the U.S. an important new enforcement tool to put a stop to the unfair competition brought on by the importation of illegally harvested wood and the products made from that wood. American timber and furniture jobs should not be undercut any longer by foreigners who deal in illegally harvested woods and pilfer timber profits from law-abiding citizens on our own soil.”


Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, “The illegal logging provision represents hundred of hours of collective work by an unprecedented coalition of industry, labor and environmental groups. This legislation will go a long way towards not only leveling the playing field for American manufacturers, but to protecting jobs and addressing the illegal logging crisis.”
Carroll Muffett, Greenpeace USA deputy campaigns director, called the amendment “one of the most important pieces of forest legislation passed in this country in decades.”
History of the Lacey Act
Rep. Lacey said to fellow members of the House in 1900, “There is a compensation in the distribution of plants, birds, and animals by the God of nature. Man’s attempt to change and interfere often leads to serious results.”
According to the website, AnimalLaw.info:

The original Act was directed more at the preservation of game and wild birds by making it a federal crime to poach game in one state with the purpose of selling the bounty in another. It was also concerned with the potential problems of the introduction of non-native, or exotic species of birds and animals into native ecosystems. Finally, it sought to buttress state laws already in existence for the protection of game and birds.

Robert S. Anderson stated in his book, The Lacey Act: America’s Premier Weapon in the Fight Against Unlawful Wildlife Trafficking:

Although not widely known even ninety-five years after its enactment, the Lacey Act is this country’s oldest national wildlife protection statute, and remains today a potent weapon in the fight against widespread and highly profitable illegal wildlife trafficking.

The Lacey Act didn’t apply to fish, therefore, the Black Bass Act of 1926 regulated and prohibited types of interstate shipping of bass, and expanded state laws. “It expanded the Lacey Act’s provisions by prohibiting the transport of fish that had been sold, purchased, or possessed in violation of state or territorial law, as well as those killed illegally.”
Amendments to the Lacey and Black Bass Acts
During the 20th century the Congress added a number of amendments to the Lacey and Black Bass Acts. The amendments expanded the reach of the acts, and eventually combined the Black Bass Act into the Lacey Act.

  • 1930 Black Bass Act expanded, including assigning Act’s enforcement to Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Sport Fisheries
  • 1935 Enforcement of Lacey Act by Department of Agriculture
  • 1947 Black Bass Act expanded to all “game fish”
  • 1949 Provision added to Lacey Act which prohibited importing “wild animals or birds” under “inhumane or unhealthful conditions”
  • 1952 Black Bass Act expanded to all fish, and not just game fish
  • 1969 Lacey Act amended to include amphibians, reptiles, mollusks, and crustaceans…Black Bass Act expanded to include interstate and foreign commerce
  • 1981 Amendment combined both Lacey and Black Bass Acts and enforced penalties
  • 1988 Amendment added a section which defined the sale of wildlife to “include the provision or purchase of guiding or outfitting services for the illegal acquisition of wildlife.”

Proposed Congressional Amendments
The following proposed amendments are pending in the Senate and House:

  • H.R. 2964, The Captive Primate Safety Act would add nonhuman primates as “prohibited wildlife species”
  • S. 1498: Captive Primate Safety Act Senate version of HR 2964
  • H.R. 1497, The Legal Timber Protection Act expands protection to “any wild member of the plant kingdom, including roots, seed, parts, and products thereof (but excluding common food crops and cultivars).”
  • H.R. 4933 Captive Wildlife Safety Technical Amendments Act of 2008 extends protection to “captive wildlife”
  • H.R. 5534, the Bear Protection Act of 2008 prohibits the trading of “bear viscera” or the “body fluids or internal organs of a bear, including its gallbladder and excluding its blood or brains.”
Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.