Lumber Liquidators plead guilty on Thursday to selling wood from Siberian tiger habitats, federal officials said, according to CBS News.
The flooring company admitted that they had illegally imported hardwood flooring from China that had been made with illegally logged lumber from the habitats of endangered Siberian tigers and Amur leopards.
“Lumber Liquidators’ race to profit resulted in the plundering of forests and wildlife habitat that, if continued, could spell the end of the Siberian tiger,” Assistant Attorney General John Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement.
The company agreed to pay more than $13 million in fines when they entered their plea in a federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, on Thursday, October 22.
— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) October 23, 2015
Earlier this month, Lumber Liquidators was charged with one felony count of importing goods through false statements and four misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act. According to ForestLegality.org, the Lacey Act is a “1900 United States law that bans trafficking in illegal wildlife.” The Act was amended in 2008 to include plants and plant products, which includes timber and paper. The website reports that the Lacey Act is the world’s first ban on trade in illegally sourced wood products. Lumber Liquidators plea marks the first time a major U.S. corporation was found guilty of smuggling wood under the Act.
“The illegal timber trade represents a grave threat to the welfare and conservation of critically endangered wild tiger populations, and we applaud the Department of Justice for working to protect the habitats of wildlife,” Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager, World Animal Protection, said in a statement.
According to WCS Russia, there are only about 500 Siberian or Amur tigers are left in the wild, with 95 percent of them being in the Russian Far East. The Amur leopards are considered the rarest big cat in the world, and there are currently an estimated 57 of them left in Russia.
— Sierra Magazine (@Sierra_Magazine) October 22, 2015
CBS News reports that Lumber Liquidators has 370 stores in the United States, with their headquarters located in Toana, Virginia. Last year, the company reported $63.4 million in income on sales of $1.1 billion. On Thursday, their stock fell 1.7 percent to $15.28.
Lumber Liquidators’ complicity in the illegal timber trade was first uncovered by the Environmental Investigation Agency. According to their report, the company “committed systematic fraud and imported large quantities of illegal timber from the Russian Far East and other high-risk countries.”
According to Mongabay, investigators with the Environmental Investigation Agency posed as timber buyers in Russian Far East and then followed the illegally logged wood to Suifenhe, a town on the border in China. While there, they spoke to officials at a company called Xingjia Economic and Trade Corp., which admitted they were involved in the illegal logging. They also admitted that they had been paying bribes to the government to “look the other way.” The investigators then learned that Xingjia’s largest trading partner was Lumber Liquidators.
EIA’s Kate Horner said she actually observed the products being wrapped in the company’s packaging. She said she believes the company knew what was going on and it surpassed “simply failing to perform due diligence to ensure that illegal timber wasn’t making its way into the hardwood products it was selling to unsuspecting consumers in the U.S.”
— CNBC (@CNBC) October 22, 2015
“One would surmise that Lumber Liquidators had to have known, given how egregious the illegal logging was, and how readily [Xingjia] admitted to their illegal practices,” she said.
“In addition to the fines and penalties imposed as part of this deal, this compliance plan will radically alter the way the company sources wood products,” Horner added. “The real cost to the company will come from having to forego cheap, stolen wood in its supply chain while the Department of Justice looks over its shoulder.”
[Photo by Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com]