Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Seth, and thanks to Ben for opening this event with those insightful remarks and supporting the work of ENRD and our law enforcement partners. I also want to thank the staff at ENRD for pulling this event together and all of you for participating.
As Ben observed, timber trafficking is extremely profitable. And right now, there’s only a low risk of capture. And so, we’ve seen that timber trafficking increasingly involves organized criminal elements trafficking in other contraband, like narcotics, illegal arms, and wildlife parts. I am confident that the steps we are taking though the TIMBER Working Group and other lines of effort will help shake up this paradigm.
Illegal trade in timber plays a major role in driving deforestation and is therefore inextricably linked to climate change. Moreover, a key theme of this event is that timber trafficking is a complex problem that crosses international borders. A problem of that nature demands close cooperation between federal agencies, working together with their counterparts in other nations.
Support and assistance from private stakeholders like the NGOs here today is also critical. Your presence demonstrates that we can and will work together to address this very serious and important problem.
The Working Group will focus on ferreting out and prosecuting violators, enhancing capacity of counterpart governments, and removing obstacles to successful enforcement. These are emerging and challenging issues, and we expect to rely on assistance from across the federal government as we seek to trace and address illegal flows of timber worldwide.
Let me take a moment, though, to talk about the particular role of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. ENRD has prioritized investigating and prosecuting timber trafficking offenses. The Division’s Environmental Crimes Section has many experienced prosecutors, and it partners regularly with U.S. Attorneys’ offices to prosecute cross-boundary offenses, ranging from wildlife and timber trafficking to illegal ocean dumping and smuggling materials like pesticides. Our successful prosecutions to date have yielded the highest ever fine for timber trafficking, in a case against Lumber Liquidators; restitution to foreign countries like Peru for timber illegally sourced from their countries; and many lessons about how trafficking works, and how we can stop it.
But ENRD cannot tackle the problem of timber trafficking on its own. We rely on our partnerships with other federal agencies to bring these cases, and the TIMBER Working Group will play a key role in identifying trafficking offenses and in ensuring those responsible are brought to justice.
Because of the rules governing criminal prosecutions, I cannot discuss our ongoing matters. However, I can say that we continue to actively investigate and prosecute these cases. For example, this September we have a trial in Florida on a seven-count indictment for the alleged importation of wood products in violation of the Lacey Act, and other crimes. Other Lacey Act wood and wood-product investigations are ongoing.
ENRD has also focused on developing relationships with foreign governments and strengthening their ability to detect and prosecute these offenses. We have built many strong partnerships. Because these crimes cross boundaries, it is essential that U.S. and foreign enforcement personnel understand our mutual legal frameworks, how they complement each other, and how each country and its economy and natural resources affect the global supply chain.
Now that full international travel has resumed, we have resumed our direct work with foreign governments through in-country workshops and other mentoring. For example, in the next few months we will be working directly with officials in Guatemala and Honduras, two countries that have been seriously affected by deforestation and illegal trade, as well as Cameroon, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
We appreciate the assistance of the multiple federal agencies that partner with us to work with these foreign governments, especially the U.S. Department of State, which provides funding and support for this work. We also appreciate the U.S. Forest Service, Law Enforcement and Investigations, for the original concept that led to this Working Group, and for their new delegation of authority allowing special agents to join the existing work of the Departments of Homeland Security and Interior in these important investigations.
I also want to highlight a collaboration with the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime Strategic Division, which President Biden established by executive order last year. ENRD has established a strong partnership with the Strategic Division, and we welcome their role in the TIMBER Working Group. You will hear more from them during this discussion.
I thank you again for attending and I am looking forward to our discussion today. I now turn it over to back to Seth.