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Pernambuco Wood Bows Remain Available, Amidst Conservation Efforts

Pernambuco wood and bows will remain available for international trade and movement for luthiers and musicians


Every three years, the 184 member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meet at the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to discuss policies that balance trade and conservation needs for threatened plant and animal species.

This year, the 19th CoP was held in Panama from November 14–25, 2022. In negotiations led by Brazil, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, the U.S., and others, leaders agreed upon improving the movement of musical instruments across borders — in addition to the conservation of Pernambuco wood.

Derived from Brazil’s national tree, Paubrasilia echinata, Pernambuco has been used since the 18th century by bow makers including Francois Xavier Tourte, who discovered its durability and elasticity, setting the standard for the modern bow used today.

At the conference, it was decided that Pernambuco will now retain its “Appendix II” status, meaning that while Paubrasilia echinata is not in imminent danger of extinction, its use must be regulated to avoid that status. 

In June 2022, the Brazilian government stated to CITES that it would place Pernambuco at the highest level of protection, and made a new proposal to move it to “Appendix I,” which includes the most endangered species, resulting in a total ban on Pernambuco’s international trade, with limited exemptions.

This reclassification would have proved very difficult for luthiers who rely on Pernambuco for bow-making and traveling string players who would then require CITES permits. Petitions and statements against the reclassification were made, including Emilie Berlaud’s change.org petition, which now has almost 20,000 signatures. 

“While illegal logging and trade is impacting this species, we remain unconvinced that an Appendix I listing would have the desired conservation benefit to the species, which is already strictly protected under Brazilian domestic policy,” the UK Secretary of State wrote in a response to concerns raised by UK luthier, Martin Swan Violins


In addition to keeping its current “Appendix II” listing, the new policy for Pernambuco — effective around February 2023 — contains revised rules that will require CITES permit on finished bows and all Pernambuco wood only the first time they leave Brazil as exports. 

The Violin Channel spoke with Heather Noonan, the League of American Orchestras (LOA) Vice President for Advocacy about this decision, who put it in context for a traveling musician. 

Musicians and students will not need a permit attached to the bow once it's exported from Brazil, she said. So let's say you're going on a tour with a youth orchestra in the summer, there won’t be a requirement to either obtain or show a permit.


The policy also included future considerations, such as creating channels for documenting the legal origins of existing and new bows; supporting capacity-building for enforcement and conservation efforts within Brazil and importing countries; and identifying plantation-grown Pernambuco that could be certified for long-term sustainable use, as reported by the LAO.

In other words, there are three prominent ideas discussed in the recent decisions: Traceability, capacity building, and looking at plantation-grown species, Noonan explained.

Traceability is a central part of the conversation, she said. Essentially, we don’t always know about the bows made over 200 years ago using Pernambuco wood. It's important to develop a capacity for musicians to have some kind of documentation of their bow. In the future, if there are controls applied to movement outside of Brazil, you could be certain that the bow was made before protected species rules applied to this wood.

Regardless, every musician should do more to know their bow. Understanding where it came from, understanding who made it, and where it was made, etc.

Noonan explained that, if you know your bow and you understand how important Pernambuco is for the future of bow making (and also the environment in Brazil), then you'd also be interested in conservation efforts.

Part of capacity building is acknowledging that there can be more done to increase the capacity of Brazil to protect its tree and to consider reforesting Pernambuco.

Under this theme, many actionable steps can be taken: partnerships between Brazil and other CITES nations can look at the science behind rebuilding the forests and investments can be made in Brazil to protect them from further deforestation.

The International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative (IPCI), for example, was set up by bow makers and has been at work on the ground in Brazil for more than 20 years.

Capacity building can also take on another approach, in terms of looking at plantation-grown Pernambuco as being a resource for future bow-making.

There have been efforts at this point, for plantation-grown material, and there's some early evidence that it can be suitable for making bows," Noonan added. "But there's not yet a process in place in Brazil to certify that it's plantation grown.


Before CoP19 convened, the LAO had partnered with the IPCI, French Musical Instrument Organization (CSFI), National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), the American Federation of Musicians of the U.S. and Canada, and several international music stakeholders, to represent the music sector in policy conversations for the future of travel and trade with musical instruments crafted with material subject to endangered species protections. 

Subsequently, representatives of the U.S. successfully led the approval of two proposals streamlining the permit process required for noncommercial movement of musical instruments used by traveling artists.

“Music is an essential part of cultures around the globe, and sharing music internationally helps bring us all closer together,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Matthew J. Strickler.

“Many musical instruments are made with components from CITES-listed species but musicians traveling between countries to perform with these instruments does not pose a conservation risk,” he continued. “At CoP19, the United States was pleased to include consideration of additional efficiencies for the non-commercial movement of musical instruments, including through simplifying electronic permitting.”

For more information, visit LOA’s CITES policy action overview or stay updated with the CITES Protected Species Travel Tips.

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