We hear so much about the destruction of tropical rainforests. So when we remodel or build is it ever OK to choose exotic wood countertops? The more I’ve researched the issue the more complex the answer becomes. There is good news buried under the dire headlines.
Since the mid twentieth century regulation of tropical logging has been evolving to become a force for conservation and sustainability. Entities such as the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species and the International Wood Products Association as well as several other globally active agencies and local regulators in each nation are working to make responsible logging practices the norm. Documentation of every log from harvesting through export is required for all companies in the chain to qualify for certification.
In the current global economy sustainability is the key word here. As technology advances more efficient means of removing individual big trees without causing the destruction of the surrounding area and large companies with a long view toward the future of their industry become the major players in the export of tropical hardwoods the face of logging has changed for the better.
These companies operate on the same principle as any other business that wishes to be profitable far into the future. It’s utterly in their best interest to adopt methods and strategies that will be economically rewarding down the line. Selective harvest of large trees and conservation of smaller ones means clear cutting is not the preferred method it once was. Replanting and careful management of the total habitat also help insure future harvests as well as providing local jobs and thus cutting down on the “poaching” of timber by illegal logging operators. Conservation and management of the greater area also pays off in many indirect ways such as wildlife habitat and tourism in many areas.
By far the largest destructive force in the rainforests is the slash and burn tactics of local farmers as population growth continues. Many estimates put logging at less than ten percent responsible for deforestation in the tropics. That’s not to say that there aren’t illegal and horribly destructive operators in the hardwood business. But happily it’s getting much more difficult for them to operate. Any legitimate company that wants to remain certified to deal with compliant loggers or mill operators won’t buy from them as there are, “boots on the ground,” policing activities in the areas in question. With above board companies offering jobs and other incentives to the local populations labor is harder to find for the renegade operations. Unlike a rhino horn or a tiger skin a teak log weighing twelve tons is not easily smuggled across international borders, so making a profit is becoming harder and harder for those who don’t meet the requirements of the regulating agencies.
Quotas on the amount of lumber exported also help hold down the unscrupulous companies’ activities. These quotas are a problem in some countries where foreign cash is desperately needed. They’re often higher than conservationist groups and regulating agencies would like to see. The hope and direction is that the higher prices commanded by complying companies will work to close the gap between the current quotas and those lower numbers that would be more healthy for the forests while generating the needed income to encourage lower quotas.
So back to the original question. Can you have one of our exotic wood countertops in your kitchen without contributing to the destruction of the tropical rainforest? You certainly can if you’ll take the time and effort to insure that the company you buy from is a link in the chain of certified businesses that are united in the effort to use only responsibly harvested lumber. At J. Aaron we buy all of our exotic wood from highly certified lumber distributors like East Teak and Peachstate Hardwoods.
If consumers follow through with this diligence the effect will be that those logging companies complying with regulations will be able to operate profitably and the forests and surrounding habitat will be given a fair chance for survival through the protection they will in turn provide in order to sustain their own existence. It can work for everyone from the consumer with the lovely countertop to the subsistence farmer who can find steady employment at a local lumber mill and raise the standard of living for his family. It won’t happen overnight, but the shared efforts of all those involved in harvesting exotic hardwood and using it in their homes can make the industry a force for conservation and sustainability of the world’s forests.