Feds raid Gibson Guitar in Nashville

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Not exactly earth shaking news but it shows that when there are laws against something and there is money to be made from breaking those laws, smugglers are willing to take a chance. Would Gibson knowingly be involved in such a scheme as is being implied?

Iconic company investigated for illegal importation of Madagascar wood

Federal agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local police today seized wood, guitars, computers and boxes of files from Gibson Guitar’s Massman Road manufacturing facility.

Sources say the Nashville-based guitar manufacturer is being investigated for violating the Lacey Act, a key piece of environmental law, for importing endangered species of rosewood from Madagascar.

Rosewood is widely used in the construction of guitars and sells for $5,000 per cubic meter, more than double the price of mahogany. The island nation off Africa’s east coast is a key producer of the hardwood, the export of which has links to international criminal activity.

A statement from Gibson released late Tuesday afternoon says the company is “fully co-operating” with the investigation.

“Gibson Guitar is fully cooperating with agents of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service as it pertains to an issue with harvested wood. Gibson is a chain of custody certified buyer who purchases wood from legal suppliers who are to follow all standards. Gibson Guitar Chairman and CEO [Henry Juszkiewicz] sits on the board of the Rainforest Alliance and takes the issue of certification very seriously. The company will continue to cooperate fully and assist our federal government with all inquiries and information,” the company’s statement said.

Madagascar has struggled financially since a January coup and new President Andry Rajoelina issued an executive order in September legalizing the export of rosewood and ebony. The move was decried by environmental groups and political leaders worldwide, as hardwood forests are key to Madagascar’s unique ecology and serve as a habitat for a dwindling lemur population.

Sources tell Gibson was involved in a scheme that shipped the wood from Madagascar to Germany and then to the United States. {source – Nashville Post}

Suppliers may lie

Scott Paul, director of the forest campaign for Greenpeace, said the investigation at Gibson’s facility shows how complex and tricky the sale of wood products can be, especially when some sales are arranged through third parties in remote countries.

“Today proves that even if you’re very serious about buying only certified, well-managed supplies, it’s still possible to get caught up … in many of these regions where law enforcement is not always great and corruption is not uncommon,” Paul said. “There are a lot of middle men between the guitar manufacturer and the company that is logging the ground. There are a lot of people who are not that honest in the timber business worldwide.”

Gibson’s prepared statement suggested that it works through other suppliers at times when buying special wood products.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Webb said the search warrant was obtained based on information in a sealed affidavit outlining the investigation. That document remained under federal court seal Tuesday evening.

Gibson Guitar is part of the MusicWood Coalition, an activist group formed by Greenpeace that also includes fellow guitar manufacturers Martin and Taylor and other industry players.

Last year, a delegation of the coalition visited Madagascar to better understand the nation’s forestry practices.
Despite such efforts, though, industry officials and environmentalists say it can be tricky to be certain of the source of all woods delivered from remote areas of the globe.

Sometimes it’s possible for wood not allowed under the Lacey Act to slip through as a mistake, said Richard Hoover, founder of Santa Cruz Guitar Co. in California. Hoover said it’s possible that his company may have been fooled into buying illegal wood.

The Lacey Act can result in criminal penalties and fines, but if a company unknowingly breaks the law and takes possession of illegal woods, it may only result in the forfeiture of the merchandise.In general, guitar makers have not stopped using rosewood, ebony and other exotic woods, but have begun sourcing the wood from renewable supplies and going through a certification process. {more -The Tennessean}

Why all the fuss?

Madagascar, which has been isolated from landmasses for more than 160m years, is the world’s fourth largest island and a “conservation hotspot” with thousands of exotic species found only here. These include nearly 100 species of lemur, six of which are deemed critically endangered.

But decades of logging, mining and farming have destroyed 90 per cent of Madagascar’s forests, though the rate has slowed in the past two decades, the Guardian reports.

The former president, Marc Ravalomanana, was praised for putting 6m hectares under protection and backing eco-friendly community projects and sustainable farming. But Mr Ravalomanana was ousted in March in a violent coup that led to a “gold rush” of armed loggers and poachers.

Now lemurs’ natural habitat is again under threat from the accelerating deforestation.

In addition, the endangered animals are being hunted for bushmeat, either to be eaten by drought-afflicted local populations or sold as a roasted delicacy in city restaurants.

Dr Hantanirina Rasamimanana, a researcher and teacher at Antananarivo University, told the paper: “Deforestation is always a problem, but in these past five months bushmeat is also very dangerous. People are desperate because of the lack of rain.”

She added: “Here in Madagascar, when there is a political change, everything is burning. It’s always like that. They burn, they cut, they destroy, they steal. “If they don’t stop, I am afraid that some species will become extinct.” Conservationists say that armed gangs are exploiting the security vacuum to pillage rosewood and ebony from supposedly protected forests on behalf of a so-called “timber mafia”.

This year an estimated $100m worth of hardwood has been cut down and sold, mostly to China to be turned into furniture. {more}