NAHB Wants to Protect Homeowners From Illegal Wood, via the Lacey Act

house being framedPop quiz for homeowners. Where did the wood come from that was used to frame your house? Was it the byproduct of illegal logging? If so, your property could be seized right out from under you. In theory, anyway.

But it’s hard to imagine a real-world scenario where this would happen. Nevertheless, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is determined to prevent it from happening.

The NAHB is urging Congress to amend the Lacey Act to include such protections. I probably don’t need to state the obvious, but I’ll do it anyway. They are mostly covering their own rear with this legal effort. But at least they’ve included end users like you and me for good measure. I feel loved.

What is the Lacey Act?

The Lacey Act is often mentioned in the news, usually in conjunction with some kind of environmental concern or debate. The Lacey Act is a conservation law that dates back to 1900. It was signed into law by President William McKinley on May 25, 1900. Among other things, the Lacey Act outlaws the trade or sale of illegally sourced wildlife and plants. And since trees are plants, that brings us full circle to the topic at hand.

Home builders and other construction companies that use lumber from illegal logging operations can be held liable. They could face civil and criminal charges for violating the Lacey Act, even if they did so unwittingly. According to the NAHB, the end user could be held liable as well. In this context, the end user might be a homeowner whose home was built from illegally harvested lumber.

Hardwood Floors, the magazine of the National Wood Flooring Association, painted a scenario where legally “tainted” wood could be removed from a person’s home. But to my knowledge, no homeowner has ever been fined or otherwise penalized for such a thing. Of course, there would be a higher level of risk for the do-it-yourself homeowner who cuts down a protected tree to floor his dining room. But for the average homeowner who has no idea where the wood is sourced, I see little cause for legal concern.

The NAHB Seeks an Added Layer of Protection

The NAHB, a trade group that represents more than 140,000 individual builders and contractors, is now urging members of Congress to amend portions of the Lacey Act. They want to see an added layer of protection for businesses and individuals that unknowingly procure illegal wood products from overseas. They want the amended law to prevent property seizures and/or legal liabilities in such scenarios.

NAHB chairman Barry Rutenberg recently testified before a natural resources subcommittee within the House of Representatives. In his testimony, Rutenberg explained that he fully supports the mission of the Lacey Act, which prevents the trade of illegally harvested wood products. “[W]e do not support illegal logging in any place at any time,” he said. He went on to say that home builders who unknowingly obtain illegal wood should have a chance to return the material.

There’s also the question of sourcing. In the lumber industry, the supply chain can be a long one. So it is sometimes difficult to trace a product all the way back to its source. A house might include wood from many different sources, which further complicates the issue. “Builders have no way of knowing the origin of a particular piece of lumber, a component of a cabinet, a closet door or crown molding,” Rutenberg explained.

So what, specifically, does the NAHB hope to accomplish? According to a statement released earlier today, they want Congress to make an amendment to the Lacey Act so home builders and other businesses would have a chance to return “tainted” materials. And if it prevents the government from ripping out your wood floors, so much the better.