Monday, November 21, 2011

Amazon Logging

A friend of mine recently saw a documentary about gold miners tearing up a chunk of the rainforest--probably in the cloud forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes--in Peru and wondered why that couldn't be stopped.
I responded with this short but salient note about the illegal logging in the jungle as a sort of comparison. Here is what I had to say:
Well, no, the Peruvian government, just like the rest of the governments all over the world, can't keep people from either legal or illegal plundering. We just do it more formally here in the Western World by giving people contracts to ravage the land. In poor countries it's generally every man/woman for him/herself. Why can't it be stopped? Because there are just too many who want to work and need the dough and from everybody's point of view the jungle goes on endlessly. They have no idea how finite it really is. Even on the river I use for my trips there is illegal logging. And the loggers, who go upriver from where we go, cut down 10 trees, maybe 60 feet of good 5'-7' thick trunk each, and make rafts to float back to Iquitos where the wood is made into the cheapest plywood you've ever seen. And the men who do the work will make about 8 dollars a day, and the guy who organizes the trips will sell those 10 tree trunks--cut into 12 foot lengths for transport-- for a total of a thousand dollars and earn maybe $300-$500 when he's paid off his people and for the gas to put in the boats to move that raft of trunks.
Here's the kicker: There are trees out there--lots and lots of them--that are worth tens of thousands of dollars for a single trunk for use in fine veneers, fine furniture, fine flooring and for woodworkers. One of my friends, Jim K, has control of vast reserves of forest and he has his people, the people who live out there in those reserves, make very occasional and selective cuts. A tree here, a tree there. And he then has those trunks cut into blocks to sell to wood workers in stores in the northern US and Canada. And it's beautiful wood shipped out by the occasional container load. And his people get well paid and they don't need to cut the forest for cheap plywood. They protect the forest.
But how to educate everybody that they could make a lot more with a lot less cutting if they sold the right trees to the right buyers? And even if you could educate those illegal loggers, the price would fall if suddenly there was a lot more wood sold for veneers and furniture, and then the locals would go back to cutting everything.
So yes, it stinks.
And no, I don't have a solution.

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