Categorized | Imperiled Wildlife

The Lacey Act – Protecting Forests, Wildlife & American Jobs

Recently, federal agents confiscated wood and guitars from the factories of the Gibson Guitar Corporation based on intelligence gathered that indicated the famous guitar maker had illegally imported Indian Hardwood into the United States. The result of these actions has caused a firestorm of anger and  misinformation to pop up about the law that made Gibson’s import of the Indian Hardwood illegal; the Lacey Act. The CEO of the Gibson Guitar Corporation, Henry Juszkiewicz, has launched an all-out attack on the Lacey Act, making the argument that the act is unfairly targeting his corporation and stating that the act is costing the U.S. much needed jobs. Unfortunately, he’s playing a song of misinformation.

The Lacey Act is one of the United States’ oldest pieces of environmental legislation, signed into law back in 1900, and was originally passed to ensure the protection of wildlife and plant species that were being illegally taken from the wild. While the Lacey Act has been amended numerous times since its initial passage over a century ago, the latest revisions to the Act are the ones that involve the recent Gibson Guitar incident. In 2008, as part of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (aka the Farm Bill), the Lacey Act was amended to make the import of illegally sourced plant products a violation of the law. The amendments were designed to help curb illegal logging that is occurring worldwide. As a result of the amendments, other countries have responded with similar legislation and companies who deal with plant materials in their supply chains are now putting a greater emphasis on knowing where their products are coming from and that they’re being harvested according to the rule of law in the countries of harvest.

Defenders of Wildlife has been working with companies impacted by the Lacey Act, as well as other environmental organizations, as part of the Lacey Coalition. The coalition has worked together to ensure that the requirements in the new Lacey Act amendments are properly implemented while ensuring that the businesses impacted have enough time to prepare for what will now be required of them under the law. The partnership formed in this coalition has allowed each side to develop solutions together that have benefitted both sides.

So why is Henry Juszkiewicz leading a movement against the Lacey Act? Is he simply mad about how his company has been portrayed as a result of this incident? Did he see this as an opportunity to have the recent Lacey Act amendment repealed? No one is really sure. Even companies impacted by the Lacey Act are going against Juszkiewicz’s claims and trying to show why we need the act. Such support was shown in a recent blog post by “The Hill”:

“Jameson French, the CEO of Northland Forest Products and the former chairman of the Hardwood Federation, said illegal loggers evade environmental and trade laws and sell their products cheaper than law-abiding companies can. French said he is “flabbergasted by the misinformation that’s been put out there” by Gibson. In particular, he said that rather than costing jobs, the Lacey Act has “saved a lot of American jobs” by protecting American wood companies from illegal competition.”

This point was elaborated on further in a recent Dear Colleague letter written by Congressman Earl Blumenauer:

“The Lacey Act is helping to address illegal logging taking place on the Russian-Chinese border, and elsewhere, and as a result, supporting U.S. companies and the workers they employ.  That is why thousands of companies came together to support the 2008 Lacey Act amendments, including the American Forest & Paper Association, whose members employ nearly 900,000 people and are top 10 manufacturing employers in 47 States, and the Hardwood Federation, whose members represent 14,000 businesses and over one million families.”

Even fellow guitar makers are standing up against what Gibson is saying. In a recent blog post for the Forest Legality Alliance, the President of Taylor Guitars stated:

“…here’s how Lacey has affected the way we do business at Taylor Guitars. It’s very simple. We now investigate the sources of our wood, and we ensure to the best of our ability that the wood was taken legally. We fill out the paperwork required and we present our business, as an open book. The cost isn’t so much for us. It’s not an unbearable added burden, and we’re happy to do the extra administrative work.”

That seems to differ vastly from Juszkiewicz’s statement that “The federal bureaucracy is just out of hand.”

Juszkiewicz’s statements and actions have rallied supporters of the iconic Gibson Guitars fed by  a cascade  of misinformation. The misinformation born as a result of this movement continues to produce false, fear mongering information, with one of the most recent being that the federal government would confiscate and or arrest anyone possessing a guitar made of illegally sourced wood. The rumors have gotten so out of hand that the Justice Department was asked by congress to respond to the Gibson event and clarify some of the misinformation being spread.

The Lacey Act is doing precisely what it was intended to do; ensuring that illegally sourced plant products don’t enter the United States. Companies dealing with international supply chains support it because it ensures business are playing on a level playing field. Environmental organizations support it because it ensures the protection of threatened and endangered plant and animal species. So why is Gibson continuing to play a song of misinformation?

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David Tucker is the coordinator for Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife. He works on wildlife issues related to renewable energy, global warming, illegal logging, and threatened and endangered species. He’s also a graduate of the 2009-2010 class of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders program.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.