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New Problems for Bagpipe Owners


This past summer the rules governing the sale and importation of antique ivory, a major component in a lot of old sets of bagpipes, were changed/clarified. Now, to add to these rules, bagpipers have to worry about the main component of bagpipes, the wood.

This fall CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora) added some new species to Appendix II of the convention. This appendix includes “… species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.”

Starting January 1, 2017 all species of Dalbergia, which is the rosewood family, will be added to this classification. This includes Dalbergia melanoxylon, what bagpipers know as African blackwood. African blackwood is used widely in woodwind instruments, like clarinets, oboes, certain types of flutes, and, importantly, bagpipes.

Inclusion in Appendix II of CITES does not ban the sale, import, or export of items. It monitors the sale through the use of permits and certificates. Bagpipers with ivory bagpipes are familiar with this process but soon all bagpipers will need to have some knowledge.

The inclusion of Dalbergia, which includes over 250 different species, was caused by over harvesting of the rosewoods in recent years. Demand in Asia, particularly China, has driven up the cost of these woods leading to increased harvesting and clear-cutting of forestry, both legal and illegal. In China, various species of Dalbergia, including blackwood, is used in furniture and decorative items and is seen as a status symbol.

Most species of Dalbergia are very slow growing, with African blackwood taking almost 60 years to produce usable wood. It also only grows in limited areas under strict conditions. Currently this only includes parts of central and eastern Africa although there are some plantations of blackwood starting up in Florida and South America.

Since this inclusion is so new, the U.S. Dept of Fish and Wildlife has not issued any advisory opinions on blackwood instruments. New blackwood instruments will need certification of some sort to prove the wood came from legal sources. Older sets will most likely need certification of some sort but no process has been put into place yet. Much of this monitoring will mainly affect buying and selling instruments across international borders and will likely hit small instrument makers the hardest. No restrictions for traveling with existing blackwood instruments are on the horizon as yet.

The best advise right now is to take great care when crossing international borders with bagpipes, or if you intend to buy or sell any stands of drones, after the 1st of the year. Stay informed as rules and restrictions develop and make sure any new chanters or bagpipes you buy are provided with appropriate certification.

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Issue New Ivory Rules


David Lairson David has been playing the bagpipes for over 20 years. He is an instructor and soloist with the Palm Beach Pipes & Drums and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band. David is active in the Florida competition circuit, and when he is not practicing or playing he works as a computer technician. He currently lives in sunny South Florida.