Loggers and Washington Square Off
The current political climate is so tumultuous that it is not unlikely for new legislation to come and go without ever drawing major media headlines. People are still very focused on our military action in Iraq while also becoming more involved in the upcoming primaries and presidential election. One by-product of the intense focus on these two issues is that very little attention is given to any other bills that are being proposed in either the House or the Senate. In particular, Senator Ron Wyden, a democrat from Oregon, introduced the Combat Illegal Logging Act in August. This legislation has the ability to dramatically impact the timber industry as well as the environmental health of this planet. In reality, the industries that would be touched by this Act extend well beyond what is initially assumed; in fact, the "timber" industry is just one chink in a long chain. For example, many divisions of manufacturing would be affected such as the wood flooring industry and the wood furniture industry. Transportation industries and retail industries may also experience some impact to their business if Senator Wyden’s proposed legislation passes. A similar situation arose in the House where Representative Earl Blumenauer, also a democrat from Oregon, introduced in March the Legal Timber Protection Act. Interestingly, many other products from other industries are already monitored under similar situations by way of the ancient Lacey Act. The Lacey Act banned imports of fish and wildlife that were deemed illegal, but this Act never extended to cover the imports of timber. The new legislation would allow wood, flooring and paper products that were not harvested in accordance with international or foreign law to be forbidden in trade without overstepping the fair-trade boundaries. While some may view this as a regression from globalization in terms of restricting the flow of goods, U.S. businesses in the timber industry will actually be alleviated from competing with illegal and cheap wood imports. Furthermore, by the United States banning the import of illegally logged wood, we would be closing the door and thus restricting access to a marketplace in which this lumber is sold. Hopefully, as a result of this, those who are non-sustainably chopping down the world’s forest will have less incentive to do so, as their ability to sell the timber would have been decreased.
For those consumers who are interested in making use of their dollar in an ethical manner, look for wood products such as flooring or furniture that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This organization was started in 1993, and in the time since has established itself as a significant component in the efforts to preserve the environment. There are a few drawbacks to the system, with the most severe being the fact that different certifications exist in different nations. The complication with this is that not all the specifications for certification are streamlined. So, what qualifies as certified by one organization, may not be certified by another. Furthermore, certain types of timber are more often certified whereas some species are still underrepresented in the marketplace. Nevertheless, companies recognize that many consumers are becoming more and more socially and environmentally aware and the immediate effect of this is that certified goods are increasingly sought after. This is both a benefit to the certification organizations, but also to those manufacturers who have invested time and money into becoming certified. This has allowed them the opportunity to draw higher prices and more business. Consumers should be aware that some companies sell both certified wood and non-certified wood, so it is important to do your homework beforehand if you truly want to ensure your purchase is of legally logged timber. Many times retailers will be able to direct consumers toward their "green" products as a starting point.
There is a misconception that LEED (Leadership in Environmental Design) certified products would then by default be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This is unfortunately not the case. LEED certified products are only deemed to increase energy efficiency and do not specifically or directly target the sustainable harvesting portion of FSC certification. Of course, purchasing LEED certified goods is still a valiant choice. Specifically though, FSC certified wood must meet harvesting specifications, wildlife habitat protection, limited chemical use, protection of surrounding water bodies, and minimize the social implications of the indigenous people of the region.
Illegal logging will catch up to us all one day or another if we allow it to continue unmanaged. Do your part when purchasing wood flooring products and look for those items that have been harvested in a manner that is kind to the earth and kind to the people of the region. Our world may be divided up into countries and continents, but in reality, it is one and the same. The saying "what goes around come around" is true of this planet as well.