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Musicians had been ensnared in rules, designed to cut down on illegal logging, that were nearly impossible to comply with.

Musicians can breathe a little easier while traveling, with the submission to Congress of a U.S. Department of Agriculture report addressing provisions of the Lacey Act that protect endangered wildlife, fish and plants. The legislation had been causing snafus for musicians carrying vintage instruments made of materials protected by the act.

Since a major amendment to the century-old act was passed in 2008, vintage instruments as well as newer ones made from old stockpiles of exotic woods have come under increased scrutiny by customs officials when musicians enter or re-enter the U.S. with those instruments.

But the report indicated addressing implementation of the amendments has in large part taken musical instruments out of the mix of problematic products made from endangered plants.

“There has … been considerable attention to issues surrounding the date of manufacture and the requirement that products manufactured after the date of enactment require compliance with the Act, even if they were made from plants harvested before the law’s enactment,” the report states. “As an example of this issue, [the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] has heard regularly from luthiers who manufacture artisan stringed instruments.

“Many of them have stores of tropical hardwoods that were imported into the United States before the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act were enacted,” the report notes, “and they are concerned about the applicability of the Lacey Act declaration requirements and enforcement provisions to musical instruments made out of such wood.

“If the wood is made into a musical instrument and the owner of the instrument travels internationally and re-enters the country with the instrument as part of his or her personal baggage,” the report continues, “that owner would not need to submit a Lacey Act declaration for the instrument upon entry into the United States because APHIS is not requiring the submission of a Lacey Act declaration for such informal entries.

“It is also important to note,” the report states, “that both [the Department of Justice] and [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] have issued statements that citizens traveling with their musical instruments are not an enforcement priority.”

Gibson Guitars, which had been charged with violating the Lacey Act over wood imported from India and Magadascar (the charges were dropped last year when the company agreed to pay a $300,000 fine) tweeted on Friday: “Whew! Finally! Report to Congress gives OK to traveling with guitars.”

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“Prior to this report,” Gibson posted on its website, “it was unclear what documentation was needed, as well as what penalties might be levied against musicians for traveling with guitars. That worry has now been put to rest.”

The Lacey Act was first passed in 1900, significantly amended in 1981 and in 2008 was further amended by the Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, commonly known as the Farm Bill. ___



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Photo credit: An employee custom paints a guitar in the paint shop at the Gibson USA solid-body guitar factory in Nashville, Tennessee, September 22, 2011. A month prior, armed federal agents swooped into the corporate offices and Nashville factory of Gibson guitar after contraband ebony and rosewood they suspected was illegally imported from India. Jeff Adkins / Chicago Tribune

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