Oceans & Forests Blog

Protect forests and the future of musical instruments

Posted Jan. 26, 2012 / Posted by: Kate Horner

As tens of thousands of people gathered last week for the opening of the National Association of Music Merchants’ annual trade show, I traveled to Anaheim, California to join musicians and other environmental groups to call on the industry to change the tune it’s singing in Washington by ending its support for illegal logging. As others noted, it was a real song and dance, literally.   

Standing outside NAMM’s conference, renowned musician, Razia Said joined top environmentalists from across the country in calling for NAMM to stop lobbying for the so-called RELIEF Act (HR 3210). This proposed legislation would gut the Lacey Act, a global conservation success that curbs trade in illegal wildlife and forest products. Twenty groups delivered a letter to NAMM leadership calling on the organization to halt their Washington campaign.

Historically, music industry demand for tonewoods pushed many rare species like Brazilian rosewood to the brink of extinction – damaging forests and their wildlife and threatening a sustainable supply of the raw materials needed to make great sound.  Many major instrument manufacturers have worked to ensure that the wood they use is legal and sustainable -- and have joined efforts to implement the 2008 Lacey Act amendments, a critical tool that ensures wood and paper will only be imported from legal sources.

According to Chatham House, a prominent British think tank, the Lacey Act has already helped reduce illegal logging globally by 22 percent. The World Future Policy Council and the United Nations recently recognized it as one of the world’s three most effective forest conservation policies.

Instead of focusing its efforts to ensure that its members understand the facts and can comply with the law, NAMM, which represents the $17 billion global musical instruments and products industry, is instead using its deep pocket and Washington connections to lobby for the so-called RELIEF Act, sweeping legislation which would gut the Lacey Act.  NAMM asserts that the Lacey Act, one of the United States’ most important environmental laws, is threatening the music industry and needs to be “fixed.” But don’t be fooled: NAMM is NOT working to “fix” this law. Instead, NAMM is aggressively trying to gut the Lacey Act’s effectiveness in fighting criminal illegal logging and trade, one of the most serious threats to the world’s forests today. Learn the full story about NAMM.

The RELIEF Act would gut the Lacey Act’s protections against import of illegally logged forest products and exempt all “non-solid” wood products like pulp, paper and composites from the core declaration requirement of Lacey, representing more than 50 percent of forest product imports.  It would take us back to the “bad old days” when unscrupulous foreign operations could dump illegally logged forest products on the giant U.S. market with no questions asked. The RELIEF Act also cuts fines for “first offenders” to just $250 -- no more than a speeding ticket, putting law-abiding American companies at a major competitive disadvantage. It also allows people to keep timber that has been proven to be stolen.

Since Gibson Guitars was raided in August 2011, a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering has appeared in the press, painting the Lacey Act as a serious threat to musicians. This is simply not the truth. The Fish and Wildlife Service, which conducted the raid against Gibson, has made it clear that it is not coming after your guitar: "Individual consumers and musicians are not the focus of any U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement investigations pertaining to the Lacey Act, and have no need for concern about confiscation of their instruments by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service." Responsible musical instrument manufacturers like Taylor Guitars, Martin Guitars, and many others strongly support the Lacey Act.

If you care about the future of forests, and the future supply of tonewoods that brings the world such beautiful music, sign our petition and check out our website for more information: www.foe.org/music.

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