Gibson’s Guitar Factory Raided Over Imported Wood

American guitar maker Gibson is once again facing some legal trouble with the federal government over the alleged illegal importation of protected wood. On Wednesday morning, federal agents stormed Gibson’s facility in Nashville, TN and forced workers to leave. In the raid, agents captured several wood pallets and guitars made of wood imported from India. Agents also seized electronic files from Gibson.

The government may bring charges against Gibson for breaking a law prohibiting the import of endangered plants and wood.

Gibson’s Chief Executive Officer Henry Juszkiewicz believes the guitar company did nothing illegal. Says Juszkiewicz, “Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of any wrong doing. We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.”

Juszkiewicz further argues that for many years, Gibson has been working with numerous environmental organizations, including the Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), to find wood from environmentally responsible sources. Gibson and other guitar makers, including Martin, Taylor, Fender, Yamaha, and Guild, have all promised to only use wood certified by the FSC to ensure the wood was harvested responsibly.

He feels the government is bossing the guitar maker around. Gibson’s facilities were raided because the federal government interpreted an Indian law their own way, without the knowledge or approval of the Indian government. When he asked which Indian law Gibson violated, the federal government refused to respond.

Gibson has been probed by the federal government several times in the past over wood with questionable origins. In 2009, federal agents raided the guitar maker’s factory on suspicion of illegally acquired rosewood and ebony from Madagascar. The country banned the harvest of these woods since 1996.

And in July of 2011, agents spotted a shipment of Indian ebony and rosewood being delivered to the Gibson factory which prompted the agents to confiscate computers from Gibson.

The increased government action against Gibson also has musicians, hobbyists, and collectors worried. Instruments made of materials that have been banned must have complete and extensive documentation, which is sometimes impossible to obtain. Supply chains can go through many different nations, including developing countries, and the exact origin of woods can easily be reported incorrectly.

For instance, Pascal Vieillard and his company A-440 Pianos in Atlanta, GA, imported a number of antique pianos. When he requested assistance from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to properly fill out paperwork on the pianos, the convention notified U.S. Customs. Agents soon arrested Vieillard for importing the pianos, whose keys were made of ivory. He later pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges, paid $17,500 in fines, and was held for three years on probation.

So why would musicians and enthusiasts cling on to these instruments if it could bring major trouble to them? One reason is simply because the tone and sound older instruments make are sometimes more desirable than any guitar produced today. The type of wood used to make guitar bodies and parts impacts how the guitar will sound. Cheaper guitars made of plywood have a substantially less pleasing sound than, for instance, a more expensive guitar made of real wood such as mahogany.

Despite its intention to help the environment, is this a case where the federal government is going too far? Gibson’s CEO believes so. Says Juszkiewicz, “The federal bureaucracy is just out of hand and it seems to me there’s almost a class warfare of companies versus people, rich versus poor, Republicans versus Democrats and there’s just a lack of somebody that stands up and says, ‘I’m about everyone. I’m really about America and doing what’s good for the country and not fighting these little battles.’”

So while Gibson’s workers are sent home and guitar production paused, a number of eco-friendly guitars might be a possible alternative. Made of materials ranging from bamboo to recycled electronics, musicians afraid of getting caught up in legal troubles may appreciate these radically different musical instruments.

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Popular Herbicide Blamed in Tree Deaths

Originally considered an eco-friendly alternative to other landscaping products, recently approved and commonly used herbicide Imprelis has been pinned as the prime suspect in the deaths of thousands of eastern white pines and Norway spruces, among other trees, across America.

A product of DuPont, an international company that claims to create sustainable solutions, Imprelis emerged in the market this year, after being conditionally approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last October. Accounts of dying trees came months later, with a cluster of reports surfacing around Memorial Day.

In response to the deaths, DuPont has begun to investigate the allegations, but has not stopped selling Imprelis. Addressing the accusations, the company stated that in many instances, the product had been used without harm to surrounding trees, and evidence is not substantial enough to label Imprelis a tree-killer.

“We are investigating the reports of these unfavorable tree symptoms,” said Kate Childress, a company spokeswoman. “Until this investigation is complete, it’s difficult to say what variables contributed to the symptoms.”

DuPont has attempted to shift the blame off Imprelis, and instead, implicate workers applying the herbicide. In a June 17 letter to customers, company official Michael McDermott wrote that damaged trees may be the result of improper use of Imprelis, whether through poor mixing or combination with other herbicides.

Despite its efforts to wriggle free of fault, the company is currently facing a lawsuit from the Michigan-based Polo Fields Golf & Country Club.  In its claim, the golf club alleges that Imprelis caused “the loss of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of mature pine and spruce trees,” in addition to consumer fraud and negligence.

“Had DuPont tested Imprelis appropriately before distributing it to the marketplace, it would have found that these widely used trees were susceptible to being killed,” said attorney Christopher Keller, who is representing the golf club.

Spokeswoman Childress called the suit “unfounded.”

Imprelis had been tested both by DuPont and EPA officials for twenty-three months before its approval. The herbicide passed four hundred trials, including tests on conifers, a class of tree that includes pines and spruces. Though all the data had not been collected in the time before the product’s approval, both DuPont and the EPA deemed Imprelis safe.

Now, the EPA has entered the early stages of an investigation, collecting information from both DuPont and state officials.

“[The] EPA is taking this very seriously,” said a company representative in a statement.

Imprelis entered the landscaping industry as a beacon of the future, touted by DuPont as “the most scientifically advanced turf herbicide in over 40 years.” Sold only to lawn care professionals, the herbicide is intended to kill broadleaf weeds, such as dandelion and clover. The product has low toxicity, works at low concentrations, and is more effective against stubborn weeds, like ground ivy, than other herbicides.

The utility of the product makes it popular among landscapers, who have been hit particularly hard by the ordeal, having to replace lost trees and deal with angry customers.

Imprelis is allowed in all states except New York and California, which have approval procedures separate from the EPA. New York officials have found that Imprelis leaches into groundwater and does not bind with soil, while California is still in the process of reviewing the product.

In addition to the fate of Imprelis, which experts say is more likely to be restricted than banned, scientists are considering the fate of the trees damaged by the product.

According to Dr. Bert Cregg, a professor of horticulture and forestry at Michigan State University, damaged trees left in place could potentially recover in a few years.

But he also said that the amount of damage allegedly inflicted by Imprelis dampens the optimism of possible healing.

“This is going to be a large-scale problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of trees, if not more.”

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