Forest activists around the world are celebrating the successful resolution of the first criminal investigation brought against a company for violations of the amended Lacey Act. This week Gibson Guitar Company accepted responsibility for importing illegal wood from Madagascar into the United States, and for the first time there are real consequences. The Lacey Act is a U.S. law enacted in 1900 that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold. In 2008 Congress passed an amendment to it that bans commerce in illegally sourced plants and their products including timber and wood products. With this amendment, the Lacey Act has become the strongest law on the books to prevent illegal logging worldwide. According to the World Bank, illegal logging robs forested nations of $10-15 billion in revenues annually and puts the U.S. forest products industry at an unfair competitive disadvantage. While the amendment’s passage was celebrated widely, many have waited with bated breath to see how effective the enforcement of this powerful new law would be.
In a criminal enforcement agreement signed with Gibson Guitars on Monday, the Department of Justice showed that the Lacey amendment does in fact have real teeth, and companies will be held accountable for importing illegal timber and wood products into the United States. The agreement requires Gibson to pay a penalty amount of $300,000 and a community service payment of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as well as implement a compliance program designed to strengthen its compliance controls and procedures. This victory not only shows that the law works and will in fact be enforced but also offers a counter punch to Gibson’s shady political attempts to gut the Lacey Act over the past year. Since being investigated for its violations of the Lacey Act, Gibson’s chief executive officer Henry Juszkiewicz began investing in federal lobbying to amend the law that punished him and his company. In September 2011, Gibson hired lobby shop Cromwell & Moring to the tune of $10,000 during the month, and by the end of the year, the Nashville-based guitar-maker enlisted two Tennessee politicians to pick up the torch. Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced new legislation, called the RELIEF Act (H.R. 3210), which would substantially weaken the Lacey Act. A recent vote on the RELIEF Act was cancelled by Republican leadership. We can only hope that this and the Gibson case outcome signal a shift away from the recent barrage of assaults against one of the world’s strongest forest conservation laws. You can show your support for the Lacey Act by sending a letter to your congressional representative to vote against the RELIEF Act or any other bill that would weaken the Lacey Act.