Last week Ecuador’s president announced that he would move ahead with oil drilling in the coveted Yasuni National Park, an area of rainforest widely regarded as the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet. This is a culminating decision to the highly controversial Yasuni-ITT initiative where Ecuador asked the world to pay them NOT to drill for oil. Personally I’m really torn on this issue as there are strong cases for and against the idea. If nothing else, it was nice to see a differenct option being raised in the ongoing global conservation debate. In the end I keep coming down on the negative on this issue because this isn’t a long term solution. It doesn’t allow Ecuador to smartly use their resources but rather just holds them hostage. Eventually the money will run out and drilling will be proposed again as a way to increase the country’s GDP. Remember the old “give a man a fish” proverb? It comes down to utilizing the unique value of the resource in a sustainable manner and this is a direct metaphor to the tropical forestry industry.
Hopefully I have established in the hundreds of articles on this site by now that the best way to protect the rainforests is to buy tropical hardwoods. It has been stated here enough times that creating value in the forests that can actually create jobs and add to a country’s GDP, will make that resource much more sustainable and healthy. In the case of using rainforests for hardwood lumber we are embracing the unique value of the resource and ideally increasing that value. When you clear cut the forest for cattle land or Palm oil plantations it is a crime because you can put these things just about anywhere. You can’t replace the Mahogany or Teak or whatever the species that you just clear cut. Additionally when the resource is totally renewable like trees, an active plan to foster regrowth and improve quality and yield becomes the cornerstone of the resource management plan. Better management yields a better product and a higher return on the resource. Certainly the wonderful working properties of Mahogany or the extreme weather resistance of Ipe are unique values but I think the strongest value is their renewable nature. Appreciating the beauty of a forest and the biodiversity it promotes is a wonderful thing but these things do not support a country’s budget. I wish we could just appreciate these things, but for a developing country, export revenue is essential.
Looking back to Ecuador. One could make a case for oil having unique value because you can’t just put an oil field anywhere. In terms of human scale time frames, oil is not renewable like a forest. So now we are back to giving that man a fish instead of teaching him to fish. The pharmaceutical industry has certainly proven that unique, sustainable value can be had from these ecosystems, but in the end one of the best paths to conservation of our rainforests while also providing a widespread mechanism to bolster an economy is through forestry management and the lumber industry.
Hooray for us and all our customers right?