Time to Face the Music

The Gibson Guitar Corporation was fined $600,000 this month by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for its use of tropical hardwoods, in violation of the Lacey Act. The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA), an Overbrook grantee, conducted on-the-ground investigations of Gibson's activities in 2008 and 2009, the findings of which resulted in a criminal investigation by the DOJ.Gibson had been purchasing hardwoods from the forests of Madagascar for the production of its instruments, knowing that the sale violated local laws as well as the Lacey Act. The Act itself dates back to 1900, but was expanded in 2008 to cover more species, uphold other countries' conservation laws as well as those of the U.S., and provide for more stringent penalties. The revisions were met with strong opposition by conservatives in Congress, but nonetheless passed and have proven not only to be effective (illegal logging is down 22% globally), but possessed of enforcement teeth.

In Gibson's case, EIA's initial investigation led to raids by federal authorities, where illegally harvested rosewood and ebony were discovered. Gibson's admission of guilt in 2011 led to imposition of several fines, and has been a highly-publicized example of the U.S. government holding a corporation to task for violation of international conservation laws. This, in an era of increasing antipathy to environmental regulations of any sort, is an important victory for the environmental community, and will hopefully encourage other importers of wood and plant species to whistle a more sustainable tune.