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National Association of Music Merchants does ‘disservice’ to members by misleading them on illegal logging law, says letter

Recent rosewood and ebony logging has been associated with a rise in commercial bushmeat poaching of threatened lemurs in Madagascar. Gibson Guitars allegedly imported illegally logged Madagascar ebony and was raided by federal authorities acting under the Lacey Act. Gibson was aware that the timber was ‘gray-market’, according to the Department of Justice, which has yet to file criminal charges against the guitar-maker.

The National Association of Music Merchants is doing a ‘disservice’ to its members by misrepresenting the provisions and spirit of the Lacey Act, a law that aims to curb illegal logging abroad, states a letter published by a coalition of environmental groups.

The letter, issued Thursday, urges the National Association of Music Merchants to reconsider its support for the RELIEF Act (HR 3210), introduced by Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and Jim Cooper (D-TN) last October. The RELIEF Act would weaken key provisions of the Lacey Act aimed to ensure that illegally sourced wood products aren’t imported into the United States.

The letter says the National Association of Music Merchants has misled members by “perpetuating that myth” that musicians are at risk of having their instruments confiscated from them when they travel. It also points out that the Justice and Interior Departments “have clearly stated … that the government will not use its limited enforcement resources on individuals who may unknowingly possess an instrument with illegally-obtained wood.”

Illegal rosewood logging in Masoala National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

“Enforcement is focused on those who are removing protected species from the wild and making a profit by trafficking in them,” it said.

The National Association of Music Merchants has pushed the RELIEF Act due to enforcement action by the Fish and Wildlife Service against Gibson Guitars Corporation, which is accused of using illegally logged ebony from Madagascar and improperly sourced rosewood products from India. But the RELIEF Act goes well beyond instruments to exempt the pulp and paper industry from key provisions of the Lacey Act. Pulp and paper production is a major driver of natural forest loss globally.

The letter concludes with a call for the National Association of Music Merchants to honor its earlier stated commitment to the “ecologically sustainable use of tone woods for the production of musical instruments” and withdraw support from the the RELIEF Act.

“Through NAMM’s endorsement, a music industry which has traditionally been a strong advocate for the environment and sustainable business practices is now dedicating significant effort to overturning the core provisions of one of the most important global forest protection laws,” states the letter.

The full text of the letter follows

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