Gibson Guitar and the Lacey Act: Real Issue of Illegal Logging Waiting in Vain

Tom Pollock

Federal agents raided offices and factories belonging to Gibson Guitar Corporation last week for the second time in two years, seizing documents, computer hard drives, pallets of wood, guitars, and tools. The raid was based on Gibson’s suspected violations of the U.S. Lacey Act, a 111-year-old anti-trafficking statute originally passed to protect wildlife, but more recently expanded to cover wood products with the goal of regulating the importation of endangered plants or animals.

This latest raid on Gibson Guitar Corporation has elicited strong responses in the media, a surprisingly large number of which have nothing to do with guitars, endangered species of wood, or illegal logging.

For example, reactions in the media have ranged from claiming that the raids were made as a spiteful response to donations to specific political parties, while others claim that the raids are a concerted effort of “the Feds” to try and bully small businesses. Whatever political affiliation these reactions are associated with doesn’t matter. What is relevant is that a surprisingly large majority of news stories are missing their chance to report on the real issue—illegal logging and deforestation.

As featured on GreenBlue’s Paper Life Cycle, it is estimated that illegal logging represents 8% to 10% of worldwide wood production. Statistics of illegal logging are difficult to quantify, but some estimates put illegal logging in Indonesia at 90% of all total logging operations, and in the Brazilian Amazon, 60% to 80%.

What is statistically certain, however, is that the United States is the largest consumer of wood products in the world and one of the biggest importers of tropical timber. As illegal logging continues to be an epidemic, solving the problem of illegal logging has much to do with finding solutions here in the U.S.

Illegal logging is cited as one of the primary contributors to deforestation worldwide, causing serious and sometimes irreversible problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, degradation of soil and water quality, and the lowering of living standards for those who depend on or live in forested regions. To make a huge understatement, there is an enormous amount of work to do to ensure the health and survival of forests and those who depend on them. The Lacey Act is one mechanism in a limited number of tools that we have to enforce anti-trafficking statutes.

For all the discussion about the political aspects of how the Lacey Act may or may not be enforced effectively, it’s important to stay focused on the underlying reasons for banning the import of illegally sourced wood. And furthermore, we need to find solutions on how to address the problem as one of the largest consumers of wood products. Enforcing the Lacey Act fairly is vital to its effectiveness and credibility, but it is unfair and ineffective to bring in unrelated spin to distract from a problem where a lack of attention has already had severe consequences. Ignoring the fight to combat illegal logging and misunderstanding the methods of how we are already doing so will pave a path to, just like the famous Bob Marley song, a Concrete Jungle.


5 Responses to Gibson Guitar and the Lacey Act: Real Issue of Illegal Logging Waiting in Vain

  1. Great discussion! For another look at addressing illegal logging, a report from Dovetail Partners might be of interest: “Is the Wood in Your Product Line of Legal Origin?: What is Your Responsibility to Make Sure That It Is?”. This report is available at the Dovetail website and can be downloaded through this link:

  2. The problem with the raid on Gibson is that it had nothing to do with legal wood.
    All the confiscated wood was FSC controlled for legal origin. The wood in question was legally harvested from plantations in India and exported from India Legally. The US Department of Interior (per their affidavit) have misused the Lacey Act to enforce a perceived violation of the use of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule by their supplier. Gibson has been one of the strongest supporters of Certification and legal wood using FSC Mahogany for all of their guitar bodies. As importers our selves we are stunned by the arbitrary and draconian use of the Lacey Act to harass legal American businesses with no basis in illegally harvested wood. We must all work to ensure that Lacey Act enforcement is directed at controlling the use of illegally harvested wood.

    Marco Lowenstein
    North American Wood Products.

  3. Jeff Rollins says:

    Tom, I would like to agree with you if the violation had to do with the harvesting of trees. The violation of the Lacy Act has more to do with who performed the labor/craftsmanship. Either way, the trees would have still been cut down. Our DOJ is enforcing Indian law, but I have yet to see where India has complained about the use of their wood. Am I to understand they were not aware of Gibson’s use of the rosewood?

    I also have trouble with our president’s address to congress when he talks of removing unnecessary restrictions on business, creating more exports and making “Made In America” something to be proud of. I thought this is what Gibson was doing. He tells us this with the president of Gibson sitting there in the room while his own DOJ tells Gibson the problem could go away if they only out source the work to India.

    Gibson Guitars is one of the most respected American brands in the world. If they have violated American law, then please prosecute them to the fullest extent. Otherwise, give their inventory back to them so they can continue employing Americans and shipping their quality product around the world.

  4. It’s a real shame that this case has become so politicised. The Lacey Act was updated in 2008 primarily to address illegal logging that was driving many tropical hardwood species to extinction. Gibson was guilty in this regard in making a very bad business decision to buy Madagascan rosewood when it was obvious it had been ripped illegally from Madagacar’s rapidly shrinking National Parks – it doesn’t exist anywhere else!

    And following the Gibson investigation, Lacey is doing it’s job perfectly as every wood importer is now paying full 100% attention to their supply chain for fear of being raided by the Feds. In the past nobody cared where wood came from, how it was harvested, were the correct fees paid, just as long as the quality was OK.

    As this article says http://soundandfair.org/gibson-lacey-act-music-industry-game-changer – the Gibson case is a game changer for the music industry and about time too!

  5. David Berkowitz says:

    Part of the problem here is the general, but not absolute, resistance of the environmental community to discuss the August 24, 2011 raid in its entirety in what appears to be a draw the wagons in a circle mentality. Mr. Pollack’s article is a good example. Instead of taking the time to clarify what happened in August, the environmental press is wedded to the idea that Lacey as legislation is sacrosanct.

    In the present case, the wood was legally harvested and transported in accordance with Indian law. India has managed their forests since the late 1960′s. They own their forests, control the harvests, auction the logs, and sanction the manner in which the material can be exported. I had three letters from the Indian government saying the shipment to Luthier’s Merchantile was legal. What is at issue is a disagreement over harmonized trade codes. India considers a fingerboard blank a finished product and permit their export under the code for musical instrument parts. The US, ignoring the fact that raw fingerboards have been exported legally from India under this code since their update to India’s forestry laws in the late 1970′s, is pointing to the fact that these raw fingerboards better fit 4407, which is for sawn plank. Since India doesn’t permit export of raw wood over 6mm, the fingerboards are being ruled illegal.

    What is indefensible about the environmental movement’s silence on the issue is that you have a country in India that should be the poster child for everything you could want in terms of forestry practices world wide — only Canada comes close, and the US doesn’t make the cut — and as a group they will not discuss the fact that this wood was legal as far as India is concerned. The law of unintended consequences is that in doing so the environmental community is forcing the musical instrument community to source fingerboards that are “legal” but unsustainable. That’s reprehensible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>