Guitar Company Admits To Using Illegal Rainforest Wood

By Lloyd Alter, TreeHugger

A year ago, John covered the raid on Gibson Guitars, where the US Fish and Wildlife Service suspected that the company was guilty of violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits the importation of threatened woods and other materials. This was not the first time; The Wall Street Journal summarized the issue at the time:

“The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn’t be a negligible offense. Pete Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the ‘equivalent of Africa’s blood diamonds.’”

Some believe that laws like the Lacey Act are sending jobs offshore, since other countries don’t have the same restrictions. The Republicans and the Tea Party turned Gibson and its owner, Henry Juszkiewicz (who called the raids an “arrogant [act of] federal power”), into a cause célèbre; in May, the Republicans tried to kill the Lacey Act with the FOCUS (Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012) Act:

“Calling the Lacey Act ‘a frightening example of overcriminalization,’ Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), sponsor of the FOCUS Act, told the subcommittee the bill aims to ‘alter the Lacey Act by removing all references to “foreign law.”‘ Under his proposal, the FOCUS Act would also remove criminal penalties and instead institute a civil penalty system.”

Now we learn from Andy Revkin that Gibson has admitted that they knew that the ebony they were using was illegally harvested, and has copped a plea. According to Assistant Attorney General Moreno:

“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. Gibson has ceased acquisitions of wood species from Madagascar and recognizes its duty under the U.S. Lacey Act to guard against the acquisition of wood of illegal origin by verifying the circumstances of its harvest and export, which is good for American business and American consumers.”

Of course, the Tea Party websites are all saying that Gibson was “forced to give in to Federal Government extortion.” They don’t care that 100,000 trees were cut down in Madagascar’s national parks in 2009 alone. It’s all about Obama.


Photo: Illegal rosewood stockpiles in Antalaha, Madagascar
Photo Credit: Erik Patel (email) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

hope they are ashamed!

Isabel Ramirez
Isabel Ramirez3 years ago

Ashamed of gibson:/

Suze O.
Suze Q.3 years ago

Of course each side is going to hold their own, who knows what really happened, especially when there are deals made.....only the deal makers know the truth!

Sue M.
Sue M.3 years ago


Robert A.
Robert A.3 years ago

It's about greed and indifference. Gibson can make a lot of money selling expensive "one of a kind" guitars made from exotic woods, and they are indifferent to the damage to our ecosystem.
A lot of these bootleg, high-dollar guitars end up with collectors who usually can't play them very well anyway. Most guitar collectors that would pay for this kind of guitar just keep adding to their endless collection. That too, is about greed. When will we learn to share our resources with those less fortunate? I have a Martin acoustic guitar that sounds as good as Gibson guitars twice as expensive. You don't have to most exotic wood to have a great sounding guitar. Word to those who want to play a guitar or want to buy a guitar for their children who are just getting interrested in playing: Buy a good guitar and play and play and play it. The vibrations from strumming the strings will break in the wood and you will be amazed at how much better your guitar sounds a year or two later. the money for a well-crafted guitar. If you don't continue with your music you will be able to recoup a portion of your investment when you sell it due to the fact that a good guitar is always worth something.

Michael Kirkby
Michael Kirkby3 years ago

There are other woods they could have substituted for the endangered ones. It's still about maximum short term profit. I wouldn't hold my breath as to Gibson actually planting replacement trees and making hefty donations to rainforest preservation funds. I've never owned a Gibson and I never will.

Melanie W.
Melanie Wilcox3 years ago

First, Gibson doesn't deserve any sort of plea. They knowingly screwed up. They're not admitting their fault because it's the right thing to do or because they are remorseful that they're wrong. They're doing it because they are pinned into a corner and have nothing left to do except make an admission of guilt and hope they get punished less severely. It's insane to me, and I hope they are punished to the fullest extent for their greed and absolute disregard for the environment. If I ever need to buy a guitar or subsequent accessories, it definitely won't be from Gibson, unless they go and replant those trees plus some. And maybe donate to some rainforest funds.

As for Tea Partiers, this doesn't concern them. Honestly, this is about environmental awareness. To come in and say that the government is forcing them boo Obama! is like going to the Zimmerman trial and saying, Who cares that a kid got murdered, the judge is unfairly raising bail on a man for his wife's lie about how much money they have - AND COMPLETELY IGNORING THE REAL PROBLEM. This is why they will never get a third party or be elected into office. Because they only care about their own personal agenda and are too selfish to function as a government party.

Yvette T.
Past Member 3 years ago

It is up to Gibson to replant all that they are responsible for having cut down.

Frans Badenhorst
Frans Badenhorst3 years ago

did NOT expect that from Gibson ?????

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G.3 years ago

They should be forced to visit all regions in the World devastated by mindless deforestation together to the idiots of the Tea party and their similar idiotic cronies.