As an importer of record in many exotic species like Genuine Mahogany, Teak, and Ipe; J. Gibson McIlvain is acutely aware of the stigma attached to rainforest wood species and the spectre of global warming that looms over our industry. The facts are that deforestation is not a result of the lumber import trade, but in many cases caused by the disruption of it. Additionally, regulation by local, federal, international, and corporate entities provides a clear provenance of the lumber from forest to lumber yard that can be tracked, verified for sustainability, and monitored for trends. Over the next few weeks, this blog will examine the lumber import trade and tackle this assumption that what we do is hurting our forests and our environment.
Logging Bans Cause Deforestation
What happens when an area of forest is suddenly banned from logging? The heading to this paragraph may sound like political spin from a company trying to prevent it’s products’ supply chain from being stoppered, but it can be validated by with a simple analogy.
Remember when flat screen televisions first came on the market and the higher costs were being spun in many way to encourage buyers? One particular point was the lower energy consumption and green nature of their components as compared to the cathode ray tube set. Government regulations also started to grant incentives for users to ditch their CRT sets and go “green”. Flat screens became the new aesthetic and the CRT market melted away faster than a snowball at the equator. Plenty was published about the environmental hazards of the inner workings of a CRT monitor and how to properly dispose of them. The reality is that in the eye of the owners their 36″ CRT behemoth was essentially worthless, took up space, and was a nuisance. Was proper disposal protocol observed? Probably not. When an item has little to no value, it is discarded as quickly and easily as possible. Today many cracked CRT monitors are sitting in our landfills and dumps leaching toxins into our soil.
Okay, I’ll admit this is not a perfect analogy as it is a case of one product becoming obsolete. The fact that the obsolete product was discarded haphazardly despite warnings of the hazards associated with it is the key point to consider.
Now let’s look at a Mahogany forest in South America. Outrage over the lumber trade’s responsibility for deforestation causes the levy of a logging ban. Sawmills shut down, jobs are lost, and a valuable timber resource suddenly loses all value. Now landowners are forced to find a way to derive value from their land. Instead of logging it for profit, they choose to burn it to make room from soybean crops or fields for cattle grazing. As the landowner, they have every right to do so and now there is one more bald patch in the rainforest.
This is the reality. Logging has practically nothing to do with deforestation. In a great article at Mongabay.com, the chart at right lays out the causes of clear cutting. Notice the tiny sliver that is the lumber industry? The Lumber trade gives this timber value and a reason to protect it. Furthermore, forestry companies will bolster the local economy, create jobs, and raise awareness of the need to protect the trees. Who has more of a vested interest to protect the forest than the company who relies on it to produce that company’s only product? Our friends at the International Wood Products Association, IWPA, said it best:
“How do I protect the rainforests? Buy imported lumber”
Lumber importers the world over are members of IWPA and rely heavily upon their knowledge and influence to help us all dispel the myth that the lumber trade is responsible for deforestation. In fact, we may be the biggest fighters against it. IWPA’s website is a great resource for more information on this topic and their Q&A guides are a great place to start to find out how you can be sure the lumber you are buying is helping our global environment.
Now let’s get real. There are always a few rule breakers right? Maybe the lumber industry isn’t exploiting the rainforests but there must be some opportunists who don’t think long term.
How do I know that my lumber was harvested legally and responsibly?
Next week we will begin to look at the journey of the tree from the rainforest to the ports and how we can ensure our suppliers are thinking about the future of the environment.