Monday, April 13, 2009

Rainforests - Part Two

In our last post (which you can read HERE), we talked about why the rainforest is so important to our lives and how it's survival is in jeopardy. Today we're going to talk about how we can help.

If you've watched the news lately, you've probably seen reports on the drug wars in Mexico. Authorities say that as long as there is a market for drugs, the situation will continue to escalate. Not long ago I watched a program about car manufacturers and how, typically, they haven't been too concerned about environmentally efficient cars. The message was the same ... as long as there is a market for large, gas guzzling cars ... they will produce them. The point, here, is not to blame the consumer, but rather to show that we have a powerful voice ... one that, through our purchases, is loud and clear.

Here is an alarming fact: The greatest factor in the loss of tropical forests is logging for timber. 70-90% of that timber is logged for export with the U.S. being the number one destination.

Here's another alarming fact: 70% of tropical deforestation due to agricultural clearing is precipitated by logging and mining roads. This is how it works ... roads are bulldozed by loggers (mostly illegal), who intend to sell the highly valued rainforest wood. This begins the chain of destruction. Next, people who otherwise wouldn't have access to the interior portions of the forest, can now move in to clear land ... usually for farming activities. Thus, the deforestation process is completed.

If there were no market for tropical hardwoods, then logging wouldn't be profitable ... which means there wouldn't be logging roads ... which means that farmers wouldn't be able to clear as much land ... which means less deforestation. So, if you are like me ... you're probably thinking ... no problem ... I won't buy Mahogany. And, like me, you might be surprised to find out that we're talking about many varieties of wood which are used for many, surprising things.

From the Rainforest Relief site, here are just a few woods which should be avoided:

  • Mahogany (South American and Africa), used for furniture and decorative pieces.

  • IpĂȘ ("Brazilian walnut"), used for boardwalks (NY is one of the largest importers), truck flooring, decking and benches.

  • Jatoba ("Brazilian cherry"), used for furniture and cabinets.

  • Ramin and Nyatoh, used for furniture, doors, coffins, boardwalks, decking, plywood, and flooring.

  • Lauan, an inexpensive plywood, imported in volume from southeast Asia and used for paneling, cabinets, and furniture.

  • OkoumĂ© and African Mahogany, used in a marine grade plywood for use in boat building and for the flooring of trucks and shipping containers.

  • Spanish Cedar (Cedro) used for outdoor furniture, musical instruments and cigar boxes.

  • African Teak (Iroko) used for veneer and furniture.

  • Jelutong, from Indonesia and Malaysia, used for pencils and picture frames.

The above list shows just a few types of wood ... tropical wood. There are other types which come from the Temperate and Boreal rainforests located in Canada, Russia, the Northwestern part of the U.S, etc. While most people focus on the tropical forests, both the temperate and boreal rainforests are in trouble, as well. For a more complete list of all rainforest wood to avoid, including the name of the wood, it's origin, it's appearance and common use, click HERE.

When I started this article, I was first shocked to find out how many types of trees are in danger. Then, I was shocked to find out how many products we use, every day, which are made with these woods. So, with firm resolve, I marched off to the local hardware store to see where wood products come from. And guess what ... finding out where wood comes from is not easy. There isn't a label that says "Imported from Brazil" or "Made in the Amazon". So, what can we do? Read on:

  • Whenever possible, buy reclaimed or salvaged wood for building. This is wood that has been salvaged from existing structures, submerged logs or mill scraps.

  • Shopping for furniture? Consider used pieces or antiques instead of new. If you decide to buy new, consider pieces made out of second growth woods such as walnut, maple or Douglas Fir ... or consider furniture made out of metal.

  • Looking for patio furniture? Consider recycled plastic lumber or metal. For wood furniture, look for second growth varieties such as northern cedar, second growth redwood or juniper.

  • For that special artwork, use frames made of metal or second growth wood such as birch or maple.

  • Instead of teak wooden spoons and salad bowls, choose varieties made out of these beautiful woods: olive, almond or beech.

  • For new building materials, look for woods carrying independent certification by an organization accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. They'll be tagged like this:

I've read that, according to some scientists and experts, the rainforest is beyond saving ... that it's destruction is now on an unalterable course. This may be true. But I would hate to think that we lost these precious forests because we didn't try or because we simply didn't know what to do. Admittedly, choosing wood products that don't contribute to the destruction of the rainforest isn't easy ... but we have to try.

Next up ... we'll continue the discussion of products to avoid and some alternative choices.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!


  1. SF, lovely. Interesting fact, while overall the US is the biggest importer generally. Britain is the biggest importer of illegally logged mahogany, US is only second, small redemption.


  2. Excellent series of the information that I find here! :)

  3. Great Post & very interesting. Guess I'm glad to know most of my wood furniture is yard sale specials.

  4. I read reports of illegal logging in my country(Malaysia) almost daily but sad to say that due to lack of political will, this has continue. As a minority in my country, I regret that I do not have much of a voice to protest against the illegal logging. From what I understand, most of the valuable woods are exported to the west. As a matter of fact, locals do not use much hardwoods as hardwoods are affordable to only the wealthy. Sad to say, so long, as there is demand for valuable tropical hardwoods by the West,and the politically well-connected people gets rich from it, the illegal logging in my country will continue.

  5. hey! just a quick line to give you a heads-up on a posting by a fellow Blogger over at Tamarindo, Costa Rica Daily Photo who writes about he world's first carbon-neutral airline.

    wethinx, you'll find it interesting.

    as always your own postings are both interesting and informative.

    you do good work!


  6. I'm agree with choosing wood products that don't contribute to destruction of the rain forest is not of opportunities, in Indonesia, especially in Java where is huge population and scarcity of forest wood...we've been used village-wood from trees planted surrounded the village. But restoring the rain forest have to take action...Your articles, part one and two, are comprehensive enough, keep working!

  7. Thank you, bARE-eYED sUN, for the link to Tamarindo and the article about the world's first carbon-neutral airline. It was fascinating ... and encouraging that there are
    companies working to help the earth. I also found Costa Rica's efforts at planting trees and preserving land just fabulous ... as the article says, if Costa Rica, it's people, an airline and the government can do it, "then surely other nations ... can do the same".

    Thanks for sharing!

    Small Footprints

  8. Great post!

    If I may add something :

    Another great material to consider more and more is bamboo! They make EVERYTHING out of bamboo now : From floors, to cooking utensils, to chopping boards, to t-shirts!

    Many companies now have sustainable practices when cutting down bamboo.

    Plus : Bamboo grows at a rate of 2 inches per hour! And it has natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties so they are often completely pesticide free.