Musicians, Forest Industry, Labor, and Environmental groups take stand against bills to undercut U.S. efforts to address illegal logging

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At a hearing today before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee leading individuals and groups came out strongly opposed to bills that would undermine the U.S. Lacey Act – a key law to help stop global deforestation by combating illegal logging.  Musicians including Dave Matthews Band, Willie Nelson, David Crosby, Bonnie Rait, Jack Johnson, Maroon 5, and Bob Weir released a statement in strong support of the Lacey Act and against efforts to undermine the law by some Members of Congress and industry.  This statement joins the strong chorus of supporters for the law, including from the forestry industry, labor unions, and environmental groups who also testified at the hearing in support of the law.

The musician statement was released by Adam Gardner the frontman of the band Guster and founder of Reverb when he testified at the hearing.  These musicians stated (see full statement below):

“Widespread illegal logging is placing at risk the wood we treasure in our musical instruments, and thus the future of music as we know it… We will not buy a new instrument without asking where the wood comes from and if it was harvested legally and sustainably…We support the Lacey Act and other laws that prohibit trade in illegally sourced wood and we oppose the efforts currently underway to weaken the Lacey Act.”  

The full list of musicians endorsing this statement are: Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews Band, David Crosby, Bonnie Rait, Maroon 5, Bob Weir, Barenaked Ladies, The Cab, Patrick Simmons (of the Doobie Brothers), Brad Corrigan (of Dispatch), Jason Mraz, Ray Benson (of Asleep At The Wheel), Of A Revolution (O.A.R), Ryan Dobrowski and Israel Nebeker (of Blind Pilot), Jack Antonoff of F.U.N., Guster, Reverb, Razia Said, Rob Larkin, Brett Dennen, and My Morning Jacket.

As Stefan Lessard, founding member and bassist for Dave Matthews Band, explained:

“Dave Matthews Band has been putting forth many efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our touring for over a decade.  There are no other products more directly connected to our music than the instruments we use to play it.  We need to keep the laws that are in place to help ensure the wood for these instruments is sourced in a legal and environmentally sound way.”

The Lacey Act is a critical tool in combating global deforestation.  The premise behind the amendment to the Lacey Act is pretty straightforward – it is illegal to import and trade in illegal timber.  Companies importing wood and wood products into the U.S. must verify that they are buying that material from legal sources.  So if a company imports wood from Brazil that wood must be cut, produced, manufactured, etc according to Brazilian law or it would be deemed illegal according to the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act doesn’t cover every law in the exporting country.  The Act’s specific language, and legal precedent (this Act has a 111 year old track record), focus on “conservation” laws.  The law is also based on the premise that importing companies need to ensure that their supply chain meets the requirements of the Act.  So if you are IKEA, Home Depot, WalMart, or a maker of musical instruments that imports wood and wood products into the U.S. you must take the necessary steps to ensure that your suppliers are complying with the law in the country where the wood is sourced.  That is just common sense as no company wants to encourage illegal activity.

Recent controversy has been used by some Members of Congress and industry to try to gut the law. The Lacey Act, last amended in 2008, is drawing fresh debate because federal agents this past summer raided Gibson Guitar Corp., factories in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee to investigate whether the firm used illegally imported wood from India, which would be a violation of the act.  Gibson also is under investigation for allegedly importing illegally logged wood from Madagascar in 2009.

The committee is hearing from the sponsors of two bills that would gut this critical law and make it much harder to address illegal logging.  The first bill – RELIEF ACT – from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) would be devastating to U.S. efforts to combat illegal logging and deforestation (see analysis of the implications of this bill).  And it would be destructive to U.S. companies and workers as the industry recently stated:

“Illegal logging and the threat it poses to U.S. jobs and forest resources throughout the world is being addressed by the Lacey Act.”

As Adam Gardner of the band Guster said:

“In effect H.R. 3210 only provides “relief” to illegal loggers while leaving musicians and other consumers of wood products with burdensome doubt about the legality and sustainability of the wood products we use.  By contrast, the Lacey Act provides comforting assurance to conscientious consumers like myself that the wood I am buying in my instruments or elsewhere is legally sound.”

The second bill from Rep. Broun (R-GA) with a similar bill in the Senate from Sen. Paul (R-KY)—the FOCUS Act—would be even more far reaching by stripping away the requirements that U.S. imports come from legal sources.  It would only make it illegal to use wood that was illegally cut within the borders of the U.S., making it completely legal to illegally log overseas.  And it would go much, much further in gutting the Lacey Act and other conservation laws.

There is strong opposition to bills that seek to gut this critical law, including from: environmental and conservation organizations (e.g., NRDC, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, Rainforest Action Network, The Nature Conservancy, and Environmental Investigation Agency), timber industry (e.g., American Forest and Paper Association, Hardwood Federation, and National Wood Flooring Association), labor unions (e.g., United Steelworkers which represents the pulp and paper labor union and the Blue Green Alliance), and wood product users (e.g., United States Green Building Council and Sound & Fair).  [See environmental and labor letter’s in opposition to the RELIEF Act and forestry industry’s letter of opposition.]

It is time to stand up against illegal logging and for American business, musicians that want instruments that are untainted, American workers, and communities around the world devastated by deforestation.  These bills would severely undermine this critical law at a time when important progress is being made on addressing deforestation.

So Members of Congress, companies, and musicians: it is time to take a stand.  Are you for illegal logging or want to stand up against its destruction? 


Full musician statement:

“Widespread illegal logging is placing at risk the wood we treasure in our musical instruments, and thus the future of music as we know it. As musicians dedicated to our art and to protecting the earth’s natural resources, we call on everyone involved in the sourcing, crafting and production of musical instruments to join us in our commitment to eliminate all trade in illegally logged timber and forest products. We will not buy a new instrument without asking where the wood comes from and if it was harvested legally and sustainably.

We support the Lacey Act and other laws that prohibit trade in illegally sourced wood and we oppose the efforts currently underway to weaken the Lacey Act.  We urge lawmakers, suppliers and craftsmen to ensure that our art has a positive impact on the environment rather than contributing to forest destruction. We call on our fellow musicians to do the same.

Please lend your voice to help protect rainforests from illegal logging”


* Photo: Deforestation in Indonesia: courtesy of Rainforest Action Network under Creative Commons License.

** Updated with link to the musician statement on the Reverb site.

*** Updated 5/9/12 with quotes from Stefan Lessard from Dave Matthews Band and Adam Gardner frontman of Guster.