Do You Know Where Your Musical Instruments Came From?

799px-Violin_soundpostThe U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued a report last month to several U.S. Senate and House committees about the “implementation of the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act,” which broadened the scope of the wildlife-protection law to cover certain plants.

The May report indicates, in part, that “APHIS has heard regularly from luthiers who manufacture artisan stringed instruments. Many of them have stores of tropical hardwoods that were imported into the United States before the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act were enacted.”

Those instrument-makers need not worry, nor should musicians who own instruments made from that wood, according to the report.

Addressing products that were imported to this country prior to 2008, the USDA-APHIS report indicates that the Lacey Act “does in fact apply to all wood illegally harvested prior to the 2008 amendments” and that “enforcement agencies are currently examining this issue to determine if there are administrative steps that they might take to address concerns with respect to wood purchased and imported prior to the 2008 amendments.”

Among those who were pleased by the report’s language were the folks at Gibson Guitar, according to a June 1 story in the Los Angeles Times, which reported that the company “had been charged with violating the Lacey Act over wood imported from India and Magadascar,” although … the charges were dropped last year when the company agreed to pay a $300,000 fine.”

A news piece on the Gibson Guitar website reads, in part: “guitarists can finally breathe a major sigh of relief.”

An August 2012 U.S. Department of Justice news release quoted Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno (who’ll leave the department at the end of this week) as saying, “As a result of this investigation and criminal enforcement agreement, Gibson has acknowledged that it failed to act on information that the Madagascar ebony it was purchasing may have violated laws intended to limit overharvesting and conserve valuable wood species from Madagascar, a country which has been severely impacted by deforestation.”

While the USDA-APHIS report tells us that “citizens traveling with their musical instruments are not an enforcement priority,” it’s important to understand where our musical instruments come from.

David Brensilver

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