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Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Benjamin Mizer Delivers Remarks at TIMBER Trafficking Enforcement Roundtable


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Seth, thank you for the kind introduction. I also want to thank the departments and agencies who are attending this event and the NGOs for taking the time to meet with us. I am excited to be with you today to kick off this important event in celebration of Earth Day.

And I want to thank Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) and his whole team for bringing us together today. I have the pleasure of meeting with ENRD every week to discuss their priorities, and the American people are lucky to have such skilled and passionate defenders of the environment at every level of the Division.

For over 50 years, Americans and people across the globe have celebrated Earth Day to celebrate and renew our commitment to a clean and sustainable environment and all the benefits it brings us and our future generations.

The Biden Administration and the Justice Department are committed to addressing some of the most critical environmental challenges of our time: combatting climate change, ensuring clean drinking water, advancing environmental justice, and prosecuting the illegal trafficking of natural resources.

This roundtable event highlights an exciting new interagency initiative at the intersection of many of those challenges: the creation of the Timber Interdiction Membership Board and Enforcement Resource (TIMBER) Working Group. The Working Group’s membership includes the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime’s Strategic Division.

Before I discuss the TIMBER Working Group, I want to take a few minutes to provide context for why the Justice Department and other members of the TIMBER Working Group are prioritizing timber trafficking enforcement.

As many of you know, the United States was the first country to address the issue of the trafficking of plant and plant products, including timber, in international commerce by amending the Lacey Act in 2008. Many of you in this room were involved in that effort and continue to work to stop the illegal trafficking of forest products. These amendments gave law enforcement and prosecutors in the United States a powerful legal tool to deter and prosecute those who illegally commercialize plant and plant products. That includes timber – particularly timber taken in violation of foreign law and then smuggled into the United States.

Since 2008, countries have followed the leadership of the United States and adopted their own legislative approaches to stop the illegal trafficking of plant and timber. Those countries include Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the European Union nations.

There continue to be numerous reports, however, that illegal logging is continuing. And that logging, and the trade associated with it, is worsening climate change, causing habitat and biodiversity loss, deepening political instability, fostering other illicit activities, warping the timber economy, and funding terrorism and conflict.

One study identifies illegally logged timber as the third most lucrative form of transnational crime worldwide; only counterfeiting and illegal drug trafficking are more profitable. INTERPOL has identified the value of forestry crime, including illegal logging and related corporate crimes, at up to $152 billion USD annually. That’s more than the annual budget of most countries.

One of President Biden’s first Executive Orders, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, recognized the direct links between climate change and deforestation. The United States made a commitment in that executive order to promote the protection of the Amazon rainforest and other such critical ecosystems that have historically served as global carbon sinks, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. This commitment was reaffirmed when the United States announced the Plan to Conserve Global Forests: Critical Carbon Sinks at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. The Plan prioritizes conservation work in Amazonia, the Congo Basin, and Southeast Asia.

And in another Executive Order, Establishing the United States Council on Transnational Organized Crime, the Administration recognized the trafficking of natural resources as a type of transnational organized crime that presents a direct and escalating threat to public health, public safety, and national security, and prioritized combatting that crime.

So with this context in mind, let me say how excited I am to announce the new TIMBER Working Group and to describe how it will help the United States achieve its goals to combat deforestation and halt climate change through law enforcement efforts. The Timber Working Group is an interagency collaboration created to: 

  • Target available resources across the federal government to identify and investigate complex timber trafficking cases domestically and transnationally;
  • Develop new tools and techniques to investigate and prosecute timber trafficking cases; and
  • Build the ability of partner governments worldwide to combat this devastating illegal trade.

The members of the Working Group each bring to this important work their particular expertise, their dedication to the rule of law in the environmental arena, and their commitment to their respective agency missions of conservation, environmental protection, and public service.

The Working Group stemmed from their sense that it would take an improved and coordinated effort to make progress in this fight. The Working Group members, and others with whom they will collaborate, will staff the cases, advance our work with counterparts worldwide, mentor our partners, and engage in the creative problem-solving that will need our collective support to successfully combat organized international traffickers and protect our global resources.

We must all ensure that these vital resources are used lawfully and responsibly and that the nation meets its domestic and international goals and commitments to combat deforestation, halt climate change, and protect the rule of law.

I will now turn the program back over to Seth so you can hear directly from the leadership of the TIMBER Working Group. Thank you.

Updated April 19, 2023