WASHINGTON (AP) – Concerned that hardwood imports increasingly are derived from illegally harvested timber, a bipartisan group of lawmakers moved Wednesday to crack down on global illegal logging.

Bills in the House and Senate would ban U.S. imports of wood products derived from illegally harvested timber.

The Senate measure, introduced Wednesday by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., builds on House legislation this spring by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. Blumenauer modified his bill Wednesday to conform with Wyden’s.

Both measures are aimed at low-priced hardwood products that often are harvested from illegal sources, processed at low cost in China and other countries, and then imported to the United States at prices below what U.S. manufacturers can charge.

Illegal logging costs U.S. companies as much as $1 billion a year in lost exports and reduced prices for timber products, according to the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group that represents the wood products industry. The association has endorsed the Senate bill, along with the Hardwood Federation, Environmental Investigation Agency, Sierra Club, Greenpeace and other groups.

In Oregon, illegal logging costs as much as $150 million a year, Blumenauer said. About 70 percent of North America’s hardwood plywood – such as oak, birch, maple and cherry – is made by Oregon-based companies.

Wyden said the logging bill would help “level the playing field for American manufacturers,” protect jobs and address a growing source of severe environmental damage.

By curbing illegal logging in regions such as the Amazon, the Congo Basin, Indonesia and Siberia, the bill should “preserve and protect ecosystems that are being destroyed by this devastating practice,” Wyden said.

The logging bill would extend the Lacey Act – which prohibits importation of wildlife taken in violation of conservation laws – to apply to wood and timber products. The measure would ban the import, export, purchase or sale of timber products made in violation of any domestic or foreign law or international treaty related to natural resources.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. House co-sponsors are Reps. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Jerry Weller, R-Ill.

The International Wood Products Association, which represents wood importers and suppliers, opposed the logging bill, saying it would “deputize” U.S. companies to enforce foreign laws.

“Creating new laws that make U.S. family businesses responsible for law enforcement in foreign countries, while at the same time not giving these companies any way to protect themselves against U.S. government prosecution, does nothing to stop forest destruction,” said Brent McClendon, the group’s executive vice president.

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