the Rainforest: Purchasing Wood Products
Written by Gerald R.
Urquhart Ph.D., Michigan State University
timber that is used in products "consumed" in the United
States and Europe can be either a cause of deforestation or a way
to preserve tropical rainforests. The difference depends on may factors,
such as how the forest is cut and the use of land after cutting. When
you go to the store to buy a nice piece of wood furniture, do you
know where it is coming from?
from tropical trees is used in a variety of ways. Furniture is the
most obvious, but hardwood flooring, boat fixtures, ornamental wood
pieces (such as those found on flyfishing rods), and other wood products
all may use tropical tree species. Look at labels and try to find
out where the wood came from. Consider the use of the wood you are
buying. Do you really need something made from Mahogany or Malaysian
Hardwoods or would a Maple, Oak, or Pine product work just as well?
If you cannot determine where a wood product came from and do not
know how it was harvested (cut down), do not buy it!
in Central and South America and Africa are often harvested by a
practice called Selective Logging. In Southeast Asia, more of the
species have value so the forest is clearcut (meaning all trees
are cut down). Selective logging, if done correctly, minimally damages
the rainforest and the forest grows back quickly. Native species
wood products from Central and South America often are harvested
forestry is a practice often said to be the way to grow trees in
the tropics and harvest the wood without environmental damage. Although
people call it "reforestation," it is not so unless the
forest is reforested with species that belong in the area. For example,
much of the "reforestation" in Costa Rica is done with
Teak, a species that originated in India and is of little
or no use to the wildlife found there. Planting Teak in Central
and South America--where it is not native--is in many ways no more
reforestation than planting a cornfield.
the picture here, a scientist is growing a Mahogany seedling
to plant back in the forests where Mahogany is native and belongs.
When other native species are included so you don't have a single-species
"forest," this is the proper type of reforestation. During
the time the trees are growing, the species that need them to survive
will have use of them, and then some can be cut for making things
it always wrong to buy wood products from tropical trees? No.
But when buying something from tropical woods, educate yourself
as a consumer. Many stores are selling Teak from Costa Rican plantations
and claiming it is part of reforesting the rainforest. This is far
from the truth.
A lot of the wood products
available today come from Southeast Asia. Because SE Asian rainforests
are being very destructively clearcut to obtain these woods, you
should reconsider any purchases of any products from these woods.
Much of the cheap solid wood furniture available today is from these
tree species, as are many of the wood picture frames. Look at the
"Made in..." label, and if it says Malaysia, Indonesia,
China, Thailand, or any other Southeast Asian country, you can be
pretty certain the wood came from destroying a rainforest area.
What about wood products
from North America, Europe, and Northern Asia?
Well, it depends. Old Growth wood is something to avoid. Old Growth
forests are ancient forests that have not been significantly altered
by humans for a long time (centuries and beyond). It is something
to treasure, especially in wealthy nations where we have the economic
resources available to protect it and develop alternatives. I do
not want my children to grow up and ask where all the old trees
are, and I imagine you don't either.
Places to look for more
is an excellent organization that promotes knowledgeable decisions about
purchasing and certification of the forestry practices as environmentally
appropriate. The Rainforest Action Network and several other organizations
that have proposed some excellent Alternatives
to Old Growth.
Below is a list of some of
the most common commercially-used hardwoods native to the main rainforest
regions of the world. Buying native wood products promotes forestry practices
that preserve or recreate native rainforests. Remember that there are
thousands of species native to each of these regions, and many more than
are listed here are commercially used to a lesser extent.
Central and South American Rainforest Species
African Rainforest Species
Southeast Asian Rainforest Species*
Spanish Cedar (Cedrella spp.)
Cedro Macho (Carapa guianensis)
Rosewood and Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)
Purpleheart (Peltogyne purpurea)
Cedro Espina (Pochote [Bombacopsis] spinosa)
Laurel (Cordia alliodora)
Guyacan (Tabebuia chrysantha)
Roble (Tabebuia rosea)
Guapinol (Hymenaea courbaril)
Cativo (Prioria copaifera)
Malaysian Maple (often
just called Maple, but look at where it comes from--true Maple does
not come from Southeast Asia)
Teak (India and SE Asia, Tectona grandis)**
*Most woods labeled as
made in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, Java, Borneo
are from Southeast Asian rainforests and were obtained by clearcutting.
**Teak is farmed in plantations
in SE Asia, where it is a native species and an ecologically appropriate
way to reforest, although it is typically in monocultures and not
the poly cultures that promote ecosystem functioning.