The Gibson Company was raided twice by agents of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, once in 2009 and again in 2010, on suspicion that Gibson had acquired ebony and other rare woods illegally. The musical instruments industry press went crazy decrying the action (apparently some agents had drawn guns!) and the laws leading to it, including the CITES Treaty and the Lacey Act.
I’ve had some experience with both laws. Once in the 80’s when a container of new Bosendorfer pianos was held up due to a CITES issue with keyboards and recently with the paperwork required by the Lacey Act to import pianos into the US.
The interesting part is an article in the November 2011 issue of the Piano Technicians Journal (rush out to your newstands…) written by Del Fandrich which quotes court papers as follows: “Gibson sourced its unfinished wood in the form of blanks from Nagel (in Germany) which obtained it exclusively from Roger Thunam (a supplier in Madagascar). The filing goes on to state: “…Roger Thunam is one of thirteen known traffickers in illegally harvested Madagascar timbers”.
Del goes on to elaborate on the second raid which targeted ebony sourced from India which was 10mm thick, 4 mm over India’s legal limit of 6mm.
Why does this matter to piano makers? The primary way is through keyboards. Ivory is essentially gone as a white keytop material, but real ebony wood for sharps is still greatly preferred. In addition rosewood is a highly desirable veneer for the case, with other woods like mahogany in (relatively) high demand. Spruce does not seem to be on anybody’s endangered list, thankfully.
All in all a great article that goes into much greater depth than the light surface coverage by other industry publications.