The Lacey Act, named after the Congressman who advocated for it, is a federal statute that was passed in 1900. At that point, the focus was on a few main objectives including protecting animals hunted for sport, stopping the influx of harmful foreign animals, and reinforcing existing state laws. Today, it is one of the strongest and most comprehensive policies in the battle against wildlife crimes and the global illicit trade.
Since its enactment, there have been several revisions as well as connected statute modeled after the Lacey Act. One such statute was the Black Bass Act of 1926, which provided cover for fish, namely smallmouth and largemouth bass. Congress intervened in an attempt to prevent their extinction as overfishing was a big problem at the time.
Some notable amendments to the Lacey Act are as follows:
- In 1935, the Act banned foreign commerce of illegitimately acquired wildlife.
- In 1970, the Act expanded to include species such as reptiles, amphibians, and crustaceans.
- In 1981, the Black Bass and the Lacey Acts were combined. A wide-ranging Lacey Acts Amendments statute was forged to implement protection for plants and reinstate previously eliminated provisions. Penalties and felony punishment were increased and restructured to seek out culprits of unlawful business practices and traffickers outside of the United States.
- In 1988, federal wildlife officers were permitted to make arrests without a warrant for any federal violations (not only limited to the Lacey Act) being committed or felonies believed to have been committed.
- In 2008, the Act initiated restrictions on the importation of certain types of plants, plant products, and timber.
“Due Care” Requirement
Another major change was the introduction of the “due care” standard. In law, “due care” is the level of care or conduct that a reasonable person would be expected to have or exercise in a given situation.
The 2008 amendment, as it relates to the harvesting and importation of timber, seemed to hit purchasers of wood particularly hard. In order to bring wood into the country, companies had to submit a Declaration form which verified, among other things, the supplier and the source of the item.
Then in 2012, a monumental case was resolved after Tennessee-based guitar manufacturer, Gibson Guitar Corp., copped to using illegally logged wood from Madagascar and India in violation of federal laws. A criminal enforcement agreement was reached between the Department of Justice and Gibson, which mandated the implementation of a compliance program. A directive that caught the attention of many other companies, especially those within the wood-procurement industry.
The case put a lot of legal jargon into real-life perspective. Companies were eager to shore up their own compliance programs to avoid the “Gibson dilemma” and to reduce the possibility of buying prohibited goods and material, thereby making them complicit in illicit trade.
The “due care” requirement may seem arduous, but it should be mentioned that it is not a one-size-fits-all standard. Each case won’t have the same set of circumstances and will be judged on its own facts. Plus, penalties under the Lacey Act may not be as severe if the violators did not know the products came from an illegal source. The key is to be proactive and to ensure proper checks and balances are maintained.
Now, the Lacey Act is powerful legislation administered by a host of enforcement agencies under the Departments of the Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture. It offers protection to fish, plants and animals, and presides over everything from the acquisition, possession, transportation, and sale of wildlife. Further, it forbids the fabrication of documents and/or failure to accurately identify shipments containing wildlife. But to match its standalone power, it also does an excellent job of helping to enforce national and international laws that work together to diminish and hopefully, eradicate the poaching, trafficking and destruction of the world’s protected species and ecosystems.