Timber logging aids indigenous people, placing value on wood.
Is there or is there not a tropical forest crisis? What statistics or examples can you cite to support your view?
IHPA, the International Wood Products Assn., appreciates this opportunity to present an industry perspective on the variety of issues outlined by the editors of Wood & Wood Products. Our views are shared by the vast majority of responsible groups and individuals who are familiar with these issues and who have first-hand, working experience in the areas of the world under discussion.
Is there a tropical forest crisis? Well, it really depends on how one defines, or what one considers, a crisis. Some would argue that a crisis exists because deforestation is occurring in the tropics at all. Let's take a closer look at both the level of forest deforestation and the causes.
One notion has been cited so frequently, and for so long, by some self-described rainforest "activists" that it has almost become accepted as fact. If it were true, the idea of losing the equivalent of a "football field a second" would be quite alarming. However, this figure, which translates to approximately 42 million acres per year, and which has been contested by many experts who have worked in these areas of the world, is way off. According to the most recent, and probably the most reliable, research being conducted by NASA, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Maryland, the actual rate of deforestation is about one-fifth of this widely circulated number. Why haven't any of these concerned "rainforest" groups been publicizing this new research in their newsletters or fundraising appeals? Could it be that revealing these facts would reduce the decibel level of the alarm bells they've been setting off and thus reduce the funds that are streaming in based on misinformation.
Numerous surveys we have seen indicate that the practice of slash and burn to clear land for agriculture, cattle raising and mining plays a far greater role in the toss of rainforests than logging does. Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
If you listen to some of these groups or watch the Hollywood movies that they have influenced, you'd think the logging industry was systematically bulldozing a mile-wide swath across South America, or Africa or Asia. The visual image and the sound of a buzzing chainsaw needs little accompaniment, if any, to elicit a very emotional, if misplaced, response. But, let's look at the truth. Though we are hesitant to give credibility to any statistics associated with Greenpeace, let's consider the results of a study commissioned by Greenpeace e.V. Hamburg and conducted by the Institut fur Weltwirtschaft an der Universitat Kiel. In their study "Deforestation of the Tropical rainforests, Economic Causes and the Impact on Development," the researchers found that "Forestry," (one must assume that this covers all tree harvesting activities, including firewood), was responsible for 2 percent of the "forest depletion" in Brazil, 9 percent in Indonesia, zero in Cameroon and 6 percent in all major tropical countries. These numbers closely echo those quoted by industry for a number of years. The study squarely places over 90 percent of the responsibility for forest depletion on the conversion of forest land to agricultural uses. Is it any surprise that Greenpeace (or any other "rainforest" group for that matter) has not publicized this study? It flies right in the face of their anti-timber industry political and financial agenda! Poverty and population issues don't make for the easy fundraising.
Let's take this a step or two further and put some of these numbers into a realistic perspective. For instance, some "activist" groups contend that if American (and other importing country) consumers boycott tropical woods, then the deforestation problem would be resolved. Well, if we use the Greenpeace figure of 6 percent (keeping in mind that this probably covers firewood, but we won't try to calculate for that here), the generally accepted figure of approximately 20 percent of production going into international trade, and the U.S. accounting for approximately 6 percent of the international market for these woods, you can see that American consumption of tropical woods may be responsible for approximately 0.00072 percent of tropical deforestation.
Within what parameters should tropical hardwood harvesting be allowed?
Quite simply, even if the entire trade in tropical timber stopped at this very moment, you would still have 99 percent of the deforestation issue left to address. And you would have removed one of the best hopes for addressing that remaining 99 percent. The international industry is responsible, directly or indirectly, for many of the programs aimed at improved forest management. As well as selectively harvesting trees, industry plants many more trees, trains forest managers, employs tens of millions of workers (who might otherwise be clearing forests for farms) throughout the developing world, and provides education and other benefits for workers and for local communities. Contrary to what some of the activist groups would have you believe, if consumers boycott these products, or there would be a serious reduction in wood use, the incentive to provide these benefits would disappear in the dust of poor people clearing forests.
Last fall environmental groups including RAN lobbied to place mahogany on an endangered species list developed by CITES, the Convention on International Trade & Endangered Species. Placement on this list would have restricted the availability of mahogany. IHPA and others successfully lobbied against the listing. How do you defend your position?
Some anti-industry groups have come to understand that the boycott argument will bear no fruit and have changed tactics to try to keep industry out of the forests. Now they are trying to control the industry by placing commercial tree species on international endangered species lists. Recently, they attempted to list mahogany on Appendix II of the CITES, even after the most recent and [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] thorough study, conducted by the U.S. Forest Service's International Institute on Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico, found their case groundless and full of holes. They were ultimately unsuccessful, as common sense and science prevailed over hype and rhetoric. But, they are expected to keep trying and some of them have even resorted to publishing their own "endangered species" lists in the hope of getting them recognized by some unsuspecting authority.
To what extent should U.S. manufacturers of furniture, architectural woodwork and other wood products be concerned about the harvesting of tropical forests? Which species, if any, should woodworkers refrain from using?
Americans are correct to be concerned about the future of forests all around the world, not just tropical "rainforests." Over one-fourth of the world's standing forests are located in Siberia, for instance, and Russia is struggling with many other problems at the moment. Forests provide a wide array of goods and services, including wood and wood products, home and shelter for many species, and oxygen production and carbon dioxide absorption. Our planet needs the forests, our children need the forests, and the wood and wood products industry needs growing, healthy forests for the future of the industry. Industry has a vested interest in protecting the forests and has made great progress in improving forest management.
Americans should feel good about using wood. Wood is natural, organic, renewable, non-toxic, recyclable and biodegradable. Using wood is environmentally responsible. It requires about 435 kilowatt hours of energy to produce one ton of timber building material; for steel, it takes about 3,780 Kw hours; for aluminum, about 20,169 Kw hours. Responsibly-managed forests that incorporate young, growing trees are healthier and absorb more carbon dioxide than over-mature forests. And, quite frankly, the wood is beautiful.
Consumers, architects, specifiers, woodworkers and manufacturers who are concerned should ask questions about the wood and wood products they buy. They will be pleased to discover that the vast majority of tropical woods imported into the U.S. are handled by IHPA members who have enthusiastically embraced environmental and purchasing policies that ensure their wood was harvested/obtained in an environmentally responsible manner and in keeping with all laws of the country of origin. Consumers also can, and should, ask about legitimate, internationally-recognized, endangered-species lists.
And wood users should make sure that they are not being misled by groups who have very clear political and fund-raising objectives that sometimes find the truth inconvenient. The Rainforest Action Network appears to fit into this category. This group has even gone so far as to utter the absolutely ridiculous call for a 75 percent reduction in wood and paper use in the U.S. over the next 10 years! Never mind that their "declaration" and associated press releases were all printed on paper, copied on paper for mass distribution and included in their latest fundraising appeal (also printed on paper, by the way).
Do you have any closing remarks?
Perhaps a little background and a caution to readers to "consider the source" would be useful here. RAN is considered an "extreme" environmental group. Quite simply, they just do not want people in the forest and will say and/or do just about anything to accomplish that goal.
Clearly, any tropical forest crisis that does exist is one of poverty, population pressures, land tenure difficulties, lack of infrastructure and resources for education and law enforcement, and a lack of information (coupled with a significant amount of misinformation) regarding the real situation in these regions. Americans can have an impact by supporting the multitude of development and education programs operated by a number of international organizations, by understanding the difficult issues faced by governments with few resources and by being patient. This is a long-term proposition. There are no quick fixes or "silver bullets" as some would like you to believe.
And, it helps to support a responsible forest products industry that can help direct the resources gained by sales of these products into these areas to provide the employment, benefits and other resources needed to address the true problems over the long run.
Help the tropical forest - buy tropical forest products! Help to make it more attractive to grow trees for their economic value, than to clear them for other uses of the land. Feel good about wood!
IHPA - International Wood Products Assn., represents American importers of wood and wood products from literally all around the world. IHPA also represents individuals and organizations affiliated with the international wood tend wood products trade. Robert Waffle is the association's director of government affairs.
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|Title Annotation:||Point Counterpoint; views of wood industry on relationship between deforestation and logging|
|Publication:||Wood & Wood Products|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1995|
|Previous Article:||Every tree killed equals another life lost.|