Illegal Logging Threatens Economies as Well as the Environment
Anti-regulation forces are working to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from enforcing violations of the Lacey Act, the first-ever law prohibiting the trade of products made with illegally logged wood, and pushing members of Congress to overturn the law. If these efforts are successful, the U.S. wood industry could lose millions, be forced to lay off workers, and irreplaceable tropical ecosystems could be threatened. A new report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Logging and the Law: How the U.S. Lacey Act Helps Reduce Illegal Logging in the Tropics, outlines how illegal logging poses a significant threat to the U.S economy and endangers tropical ecosystems around the world.
“Lawmakers must preserve the Lacey Act because it closes the entire U.S. timber market to illegally sourced wood—an approach to stopping illegal logging that’s supported by economic research,” said Pipa Elias, UCS consultant and author of the report. “The law ensures that the U.S. wood industry isn’t undercut by cheap, illegally harvested wood.”
Illegal loggers reduce the competitive advantage of legal producers by selling unlawfully cut or stolen wood at artificially low prices. This practice results in trade distortions that decrease prices of legal wood worldwide by about 16 percent.
Many industry groups, including the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Wood Flooring Association, along with Home Depot and Lowe’s support policies to stop illegal logging. In a 2007 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the American Forest & Paper Association noted that illegal logging contributed to mill closures, job cuts and an estimated billion dollars in losses for the wood industry.
Furthermore, the World Bank estimates that illegal logging costs governments and businesses at least $10 billion to $15 billion in losses each year.
“Illegal logging is stealing, at its roots,” said Elias. “And it puts the wood industry in financial jeopardy, which harms the U.S. economy and threatens jobs.”
The report shows that most illegal hardwood comes from tropical forests for use in furniture, cabinets and home décor. The Lacey Act blocks the importation of raw material and products made from illegal wood, eliminating the U.S. market for these products.
In addition to harming U.S. businesses, the report shows that illegal logging causes significant damage to tropical forests by reducing biodiversity, destroying soil, damaging trees and releasing carbon dioxide that contributes to global climate change. Every year illegal logging contributes to tropical forest loss, which in total is roughly the size of Pennsylvania.
“The Lacey Act should remain in place as is,” said Elias. “It protects the U.S. wood industry, the U.S. economy, as well as tropical forests.”
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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