A bipartisan group of US lawmakers pushed for tougher rules to stop American companies from buying illegally logged timber plundered from fragile forests around the world.

Illegal logging is not only is a death knell for forest preserves and unique ecosystems, according to Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, but it also takes a $1 billion-a-year toll on the US timber industry in lost sales.

Up to 30 percent of hardwood lumber and plywood traded around the world may now come from world forest preserves or other fragile areas in the Peruvian Amazon or Indonesia, he and other lawmakers say.

“There’s a ripple effect. It’s not just that it costs jobs .. but this is undermining indigenous cultures in other parts of the world. It is leading to reckless practices that are not sustainable,” Blumenauer, the bill’s chief sponsor, said in an interview ahead of the presentation of the proposed Legal Timber Protection Act.

Blumenauer, along with Florida Democrat Robert Wexler and Illinois Republican Jerry Weller, see the plan as a chance to expand existing federal prohibitions that already exist on illegally gotten wildlife or plants.

The plan would ban the import, export, possession, purchase or sale of illegally harvested timber, and would empower the Justice Department to go after firms or importers that do so.

That might restore what lawmakers estimate as a $460 million annual hit that US firms take in lost exports due to the trade. They also believe the illegal trade brings down the value of US exports by $500 million to $700 million a year—which takes a special toll on timber states like Blumenauer’s Oregon.

Bill sponsors say the change won’t burden the agencies that now implement the rules on wildlife and plants, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

But Blumenauer acknowledged the move would likely push up timber prices for US consumers.

That might make it tough to pass Capitol Hill but right now, it’s unclear how much support the bill has now in Congress or if the White House will actively oppose it. (Reuters)