View Full Version : Back to CITES and banned wood

Pete Howlett
11-18-2009, 11:59 PM
I can only say that whoever at Gibson made the purchase order was:

Smoking some pretty heavy stuff
An office junior
A temp
Having a bad day
Either way this has to be a mistake and not a deliberate felonious act. I mean, if you look at the PRS interviews on YouTube, Smith squirms significantly when he tries to explain where he has got his Brazilian Rosewood from...

The problem as I see it with CITES is it is a hammer to crack a complicated nut. Underdeveloped countries often only have natural products for export - trees, minerals and animals. They need trade in order to important new technologies (usually in the form of weapons - but that is another issue) and respond to the world wide pressure to compete on an international stage. Instead of heavy handed legislation which encourages illegal trade (news yesterday on radio of a Mexican teacher who is serving time for smuggling drugs because he couldn't feed his family on his teachers wage...) we as the responsible 'developed' countries (and you may wish to argue that) should help these countries manage their resources better. We should encourage them to realise they do not have to have all that we have now - I mean, in the 16th Century, England was denuded of its oak trees for Henry VIII's warships and again in the 2nd world war. When one of the Queen's palaces was practically destroyed by fire 45 years later, there wasn't enough oak of the right quality in the UK to supply the restoration of the roof timbers... we still haven't recovered after 400 years of the first devastation of our indigenous species - the English oak!

However - interesting facts:

Huge swathes of North American spruce forests are being cut down for japanes factory ships who by the time they arrive in Japan have all the components for housing - Japan is very low on natural resources. Do I hear cries from the US lobby about this - read Chris Martin's thoughts on this...
China in the Maoist revolution cut down 80% of it's trees. Where does it get it's wood from? With this most powerful economy, it's spending power, it will eventually dictate what is happening to the world's resources, especially wood.
Many Indian Ocean islands associated with great woods - Andaman Padauk from the Adman Islands springs to mind. It has had its flora almost completely anihilated by tropical storms in recent years - their wood is no longer there, let alone available!

It's all well and good taking a stand and beating our breasts. Sadly, the best solution that the worthy and good can come up with drives illegal trade. The musical instrument market furthermore wants it's Brazilian Rosewood and its look alike, Brazilian Mahogany (and wait guys, it won't be long before our beloved Spanish Cedar finds its way onto CITES) - you just cannot duck the issue. They are the Holy Grail and there are enough people out there who want it, are willing to pay for it who will buy it!

If ya'll want nice ukulele I'm afraid we are going to have to get with the reality that we either forego traditional woods for local alternatives and let's face it, who is sufficiently informed or even desirous enough to embrace that concept; or we look to inferior composites. There is a little more thought required than righteous hand wringing and wearing of hair shirts...

And lastly, and this what exercises me most. I can wholeheartedly accept that Chuck and all have a perfect right to their koa... if my argument holds true and I am not to be a hypocrite, should I, who has built his business on koa built instruments for the European market, now shun this most perfect of ukulele woods. I try not to be a hypocrit but I find myself wholely at odds with my beliefs when it comes to ukulele :eek:

11-19-2009, 02:50 AM
The problem as I see it with CITES is it is a hammer to crack a complicated nut. Underdeveloped countries often only have natural products for export - trees, minerals and animals. They need trade in order to important new technologies (usually in the form of weapons - but that is another issue) and respond to the world wide pressure to compete on an international stage.

The main part that you are missing in this statement is underdeveloped countries are not getting anywhere near market price for the raw materials they ship out. Sadly the workers get practically nothing for thier labor.

That is why the governments of developing countries are trying to manufacture products from thier natural resources. Both to get a better price and to get thier citizens better paying jobs. All in hopes to raise the thier standard of living.

If I were forced to point to one problem that inhibits developing countries growth is the USA's generosity. We all see drop of boxes for clothing and most of us think we are helping poor nations by donating unwanted clothing that gets shipping overseas.

The plain fact is we have ruined the first stepping stone that a country uses to become a nation that manufactures goods.

That stepping stone is the textile industry. It all boils down to this, how can a business hire workers and succeed if thier main competitor gets their inventory for practically free.

11-19-2009, 03:29 AM
The best solution to the rosewood issue is that Madagascar should allow harvesting of rosewood for its own production which would mean that all these companies would need to build factories there to produce goods with rosewood. It creates jobs, it rebuilds a failing economy and it gives the consumer what whey want. It also is one step closer to getting another country off welfare. As long as they continue to export raw material then they are doomed. They need to export a product. It would also allow them to harvest in a more sustainable manner.

The problem with the CITES treaty is the same problem we experience in the US with the gun laws. The groups on either side of the issue aren't willing to compromise because they believe that if they do then they open the door to it. They'd much rather use propaganda to argue their stance than facts. I support Madagascar in their stance to make exportation legal and hope that they have experts within their ranks to help them properly manage their resources. Maybe the world should step aside and let them see how successful they can be with it.

Pete Howlett
11-19-2009, 04:23 AM
And there you have it - countries controlling output like India with its rosewood - you simply cannot get Indian Roasewood as opposed to Sonekeling in any cross section above 4 square inches. It's a pain but it is good for India and ensures legal harvesting, proper silvaculture and a proper wage at source. At least one country is doing it right.

Let us not forget - we all want product at the best possible price. How many reading this would be willing to pay a baseline price of $1000 for a standard hand built soprano in pretty koa? (BTW this is the true hand built production cost folks - I kid you not!) Now, who would pay the same price for an Indonesian, Malayan, Chinese hand built pretty koa standard soprano? One day, and I know a company who is very near it, an Asian manufacturer will produce a ukulele that will compete with luthier hand builds. Will we pay the price? Sadly, I think not because of the mindset that if it comes from Asia it ought to be cheaper. Until we are prepared to pay a real market price for prodcution instruments, an increased value added price for luthier built instruments we will not 'save' the poor labourers who suffer the economic realities of this world.

And now Asia has got turned on to a 'western' diet high in animal protein we don't stand a chance!

Matt Clara
11-19-2009, 06:25 AM
This is a must see website for those interested in modern consumer society and the exploitation of third world resources.

The Story of Stuff (http://storyofstuff.com/).

Matt Clara
08-01-2010, 03:47 PM
Can't find the original thread to comment on it, but here's a (brief) follow up on the Gibson raid (http://woodworkingnetwork.com/NewsArticle.aspx?oid=1182080&fid=WWN-INDUSTRY-NEWS&urltitle=Gibson-Guitar-launches-new-wood-sustainability-initiatives&publishdate=2010-07-28&hq_e=el&hq_m=775541&hq_l=12&hq_v=73e4fcdfab). Hate to say it, but it sounds a lot like the celebrity who, upon receiving a drunk driving citation, enters rehab in the hopes the judge won't throw the book at him (or her!).

08-02-2010, 05:26 AM

With regards to Koa, I would not place blame of its rarity on the woodworking industry. Personally, as someone whose ancestors actually tended the Koa forests, I can think of nothing better than transforming the wood into a musical instrument. OMG, I shudder to think of the tonal harmonics Antonio Stradivari could bring to Koa if he had access to the stuff my grandfather and his ancestors grew.

However, your comment about 'western' diet high in animal protein is spot on. My grandfather actually became a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) to protect his ancestral Koa patch. As a paniolo, he could steer the cows to other feeding sources. He did get fired, however, when he burnt part of the ranchers feeding patch. The rancher did not understand that my grandfather did a control burn to stimulate the soil and encourage germination of an area that was already dying off. As legend goes, a few years later, the control burn area was overgrowing with lush greens for the cattle. The rancher tried to rehire my grandfather because now his cows were fat and happier than ever. By then, however, my grandfather had moved on to stevedore work because stevedores had better access to supply necessities like toilet paper and ORANGE JUICE for the kids especially during wartime, strikes and fuel shortages.

Ranching made Koa rare. It's hard to find good naturally seasoned and traditionally cured tonal woods. Not only have the cows moved in, but the ancestral methods of growing, tending and curing the woods can only be speculated upon.

The history of Koa, I think begins with the early Polynesians. While people may want to shun non-Hawaiian acacias as instrument woods, acacia is one of those staples which I believe the earliest Polynesians may have brought with them on their long exodus across the Pacific Ocean from the tropical regions of Asia. The early Polynesians planned for traveling by bringing with them the plants, seeds, rhizomes and animals which would help future travels across the sea.

I think some of the fauna like the Monarch Flycatcher were brought over as an Acacia companion so that future oceanic canoes could be built. The Monarch Flycatcher and Acacia after a thousand years of land locked evolution in remote Hawaii evolves into the endemic Elepaio (Blessed Koa Bird and Acacia koa.) What non-Hawaiian woods lack are the select history of evolution which led to a partnership with a special bird and human to develop the a tree whose wood sings of the Hawaiian rainforest and canoes.

There were different ways of growing Koa for specific uses that are now lost along with people like my grandfather. Not all koa is suited for master grade instruments. However, there are possibly other areas where Acacia grows which are naturally tended by local Monarch Flycatchers outside of the Elepaio and Acacia koa partnership. Is there land, and are there people left who know how to find the good stuff? Who knows? Without the proper skills, Koa and Acacia of master grade quality becomes scarce.

It's just that, if we crave beautiful instruments, not only do we need to develop greener lifestyles, we may need to rediscover how to grow and reforest areas as well as preserve the native fauna which have partnered with the trees. Asia might have the building skills, but I don't know if they have the green skills to grow consistent instrument materials and the patience to cure the materials.

One day my son wants to become a rocket scientist (really), but at least he knows how to germinate and develop strong roots for many kinds of trees. I can't imagine a future without beautiful music.