Fresh off the Government shutdown and the fight over the debt ceiling, a few in Congress have turned their attention once again to their curious but dogged effort to amend the Lacey Act, the United States’ oldest wildlife conservation law. The anti-Lacey campaign began in earnest with the high profile Gibson Guitar case (involving, among other things, the seizure and forfeiture of illegal wood), and was the subject of two House subcommittee oversight hearings earlier this year, in May and July. In prior posts, we told you about Congressman Rick Crawford’s recent bill and Congressman John Fleming’s recent bill. We’re back to tell you about the latest -- and perhaps the most misguided -- attempt to amend the Lacey Act we’ve seen so far.
The Lacey Act prohibits the trade in illegally harvested fish, wildlife, and -- thanks to a 2008 amendment -- plants and plant products. The 2008 amendment provides that plants and plant products imported into the United States must be accompanied by an import declaration that contains certain information about the type of plant, its country of origin, the quantity of the plant, and the value of the importation. As is true for any new regulatory requirement, it takes time and effort to adjust. As a result, the agency charged with implementing this requirement, the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), has been gradually phasing in the declaration requirement and working with industry to help ease the transition.
Most of the complaints about the declaration requirement point to the burdens involved in gathering the information that the declarations require. Those are fair complaints, and APHIS no doubt will have to continue to work with industry to make sure that the declaration system is implemented in a smooth and efficient way. But the most recent proposed amendment, introduced on October 23, 2013, by Congressman Andy Harris, H.R. 3324, appears to do nothing at all to address those concerns, and instead would change the system in a way that would undercut law enforcement and render the declaration requirement all but useless.