Both MMR and Music Inc – US MI trade magazines – have issued stories online quoting a Nashville Post article that revealed that federal agents of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, together with local police, had seized wood, guitars, boxes of files and computers from Gibson's Nashville factory on Massman Road – the home of Epiphone and Gibson electric guitar manufacturing. The raid took place on November 17th.
While no charges have yet been filed, the raid took place under the legislation of the so-called Lacey Act, which looks to regulate the importing of endangered species of rosewood from Madagascar. The East African island is one of the world's leading suppliers of the valued hardwood.
Subsequent to the raid, Gibson issued the following stetment: "Gibson is a chain-of-custody certified buyer who purchases wood from legal suppliers who are to follow all standards. Gibson Guitar's chairman and CEO (Henry Juszkiewicz) sits on the board of the Rainforest Alliance and takes the issue of certification very seriously. The company will continue to co-operate fully and assist our federal government with all inquiries and information.”
Rosewood has long been central to guitar manufacturing, particularly for acoustic bodies and fingerboards and in these times of controlled logging, has achieved prices of around £3,000 per cubic metre. As a result of this, the wood – and particularly that of Madagascar – has been linked to black market activity.
More importantly, as the Nashville Post pointed out, 'Madagascar has struggled financially since a January coup and new President Andry Rajoelina issued an executive order in September legalising the export of rosewood and ebony. The move was decried by environmental groups and political leaders worldwide, as hardwood forests are key to Madagascar's unique ecology and serve as a habitat for a dwindling lemur population.'
This Madagascan legalisation might well place some doubt over the investigation as the Lacey Act states that it is 'unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant in violation of the laws of the United States, a State, an Indian tribe, or any foreign law that protects plants'.
The Nashville Post report added that Gibson has been involved in a scheme that saw wood shipped from Madagascar to Germany and from there on to the United States.