But in 2008, Congress passed amendments to another law protecting endangered plant and animal species; those amendments make it illegal to buy or travel with any products containing the wood, making possession of the stockpiled wood illegal.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have stated that they have no intention of punishing performers who happen to have instruments made with banned wood. But that assurance has met with skepticism from industry representatives, who cite reports of performers with guitars containing foreign rosewood being held up while trying to re-enter the country.
“We have anecdotal information of instruments being stopped at Customs,” said Mary Luehrsen, a lobbyist with the music manufacturers association. “The biggest concern in the industry is the fear related to instruments being transported.”
Concern about possession of the woods mounted after the highly publicized U.S. Justice Department raid of Gibson. Federal agents seized 10,000 fingerboards, 700 guitar necks and 80 guitars containing rosewood from India. That raid led Cooper to introduce his legislation six weeks later.
But a tough fight looms. Environmentalists and domestic logging companies supported the 2008 amendments as a way to crack down on illegal wood imports and have vowed to defeat Cooper’s legislation.
For Wingert, the legislation may be the last hope to preserve the business that she’s devoted her life to. When Wingert realized she wasn’t cut out for a professional career as a guitarist, she decided to make instruments instead. So, some 20 years ago, she got a position as an apprentice at a Long Beach guitar shop and soon launched a custom guitar-making business out of her Rancho Palos Verdes home.
Wingert said that a $100,000 fine levied against her would put her out of business.
“Just having a guitar confiscated would probably be enough to bankrupt me,” she said. “I just don’t have the resources to fight this.”
She said she recognizes the value of preserving trees and doesn’t want to eliminate wood import restrictions.
“Look, I don’t use that much wood,” she said. “If you were to assemble in one load all the wood I’ve ever used for all the guitars I’ve made over the last 20 years, it would easily fit in my minivan. But the little wood I do use is my livelihood.”
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