THE OLD GROWTH RAINFORESTS
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Home Depot has become the largest ?lumber yard? in the United States, claiming over 10% of the U.S. ?home improvement? market alone. However, this meteoric rise in sales has not been without costs. Home Depot may be the largest single retailer of old growth rainforest wood and wood products on Earth.
The Elimination of Rainforests
Although the values and benefits of rainforests are well documented, they continue to be eliminated at an ever-increasing pace. Conversion to cash crops such as beef, bananas, coffee and cacao and logging, mining and oil drilling continue to destroy these vital and fragile forests. Among those most responsible is the rainforest timber trade. Logging is the greatest factor in the loss of rainforests as new roads provide access and lead to clearing. Due to this loss, each day, hundreds of species of rare plants, animals, insects and small organisms become extinct, being driven forever from the Earth by human ignorance and greed.
Rainforest destruction contributes 25 to 35% of global warming gases to the atmosphere, thus adding substantially to the warming of the Earth.
Numerous cures for human ailments have been discovered in rainforests, and more are being researched right now. However, we have already lost one potential cure for aids to rapacious logging for plywood production in Malaysia.
Temperate zone rainforests are also highly endangered. One of the rarest ecosystems on Earth, temperate rainforest are being clearcut into oblivion, replaced by tree farms. These incredibly rich habitats for bears, salmon and thousands of other species, are being eliminated for timber.
The loss of rainforest is the greatest catastrophe in the Earth?s and human history, and it is preventable.
The Role of Logging
The demand for rainforest woods is spurring illegal and unsustainable logging operations that degrade and destroy these fragile ecosystems and threaten the livelihood of indigenous peoples. Indians have even been killed by loggers seeking timber.
Tropical rainforest hardwoods are imported into the U.S. as plywood, veneers or paneling; lumber; or as finished items such as furniture, doors, mouldings, picture frames and flooring.
The United States is the second largest importer of tropical rainforest hardwoods. Is it worth the loss of these essential forests so we can save $4 on a sheet of plywood?
Temperate rainforests are being logged for interior paneling, exterior siding, two-by-fours, plywood and hot tubs.
What Types of Rainforest Wood Does Home Depot Sell?
Home Depot sells a broad range of rainforests woods including:
Also called luan, meranti or Philippine Mahogany, lauan is the term that is now used to denote any tropical hardwood plywood. Actual lauan trees are native to the former rainforests of the Philippines, but have become nearly commercially extinct. Most tropical plywood now comes from the shrinking (and burning) rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia and is sometimes called meranti. All tropical plywood may be composed any one or two of hundreds of different species, all lumped into the same term, either lauan, meranti or Philippine mahogany. These woods have no relation to mahogany at all (the name was thought up by the US Forest Service to sell more plywood from the Philippines). Tropical plywood is the most commonly imported tropical hardwood, entering the U.S. as plywood sheets, veneers, door skins and furniture. Plywood makes up 80% of U.S. tropical hardwood imports. Lauan or meranti is poor- to medium-quality wood with a range of color from red to near white.
Lauan is highly undervalued, as Asian logging firms have cleared through millions of hectares of rainforest since the 1950s. Philippines, once the largest exporter, is now over 80% deforested. Thailand, once a large producer, is also 80% deforested. Malaysia and Indonesia, both recent top exporters of tropical plywood, have each lost half their forests to logging and consequent deforestation.
Indigenous peoples in each of these countries have attempted to stand in the way of the slaughter of their forests, but to little avail. In Malaysia, the army has beaten and arrested many indigenous Penan as they have attempted to block the ravaging of their homelands by Japanese logging firms and the Malaysian government.
In the Philippines, activists have been targeted for assassination by illegal loggers seeking to cut the few remaining lauan trees on private lands.
Undervalued and sold very cheaply, the real cost of lauan is extremely high.
Home Depot sells lauan plywood in the form of all-lauan plywood sheets of varying thicknesses (in the L.A. store, from La Mirada DC/Taraga Pacific), interior hollow-core doors, lauan-faced softwood plywood sheets (Roseburg Forest Products), and paneling.
Home Depot sells solid lauan (or other related species of Southeast Asian rainforest hardwoods in the Shorea group) as handles on wheelbarrows (True Temper) and possibly pre-hung front doors (Main Door Corp., Gardena, CA) (incorrectly marketed as ?mahogany?).
A beautiful dark wood with a reddish color and fine grain, the majority of mahogany on the market today is taken illegally from rainforests in Brazil and Bolivia. Outlaw timber companies invade indigenous reserves, park and nature preserves destroying not only the fragile forests, but the homelands of indigenous tribal peoples. Tree poachers punch new roads into pristine forests, cut valuable trees, transport the wood to middlemen and exporters who in turn sell it to importers in the U.S., Europe and Japan. The U.S. is the world?s leading importer of mahogany.
Smaller volumes of mahogany are imported from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize and a few other Central and South American rainforest countries.
The Brazilian intelligence agency has reported that 80% of logging in Brazil is illegal. Two agencies in Brazil have declared South American mahogany within Brazil (the largest part of its range) to be endangered.
Carribean (true) mahogany is commercially extinct from its native areas in the West Indies.
When we buy mahogany doors, paneling or furniture, we participate in driving forests, endangered species and human cultures into extinction.
Home Depot sells pre-hung doors made from South American (bigleaf) mahogany.
Ramin is a blond-colored hardwood native to swamp rainforests of the island of Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia). These forests have been hammered by loggers since the early 1980s and are nearing extinction. Even though ramin is considered endangered, it is being logged at ever-increasing rates, as it is considered highly valuable. Ramin is used extensively for furniture, dowels, tool handles, and other small items like drying racks.
Buying ramin or ramin-containing items perpetuates a demand that keeps the value of this tree high, thus continuing to encourage the illegal logging of this endangered species.
Home Depot sells ramin as dowels and as handles for tools manufactured in Southeast Asia (usually Thailand or Taiwan) and the U.S. The handles in the Wall Covering Kit, the Barrel Seam Roller and the Smoother Brush, all from Padco (Thailand) are ramin.
Native to temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest from norther California to Alaska, cedar trees are one of the oldest forms of life in the Pacific coastal temperate rainforests (and on Earth). Cedar trees often reach over 800 years old, with trees over 1,000 year old not uncommon. There are three species commonly used, Western Red Cedar, yellow cedar and Alaskan cedar.
Cedar is a highly rot-resistant softwood (cone-bearing tree) and has been used for thousands of years by native peoples in the region for longhouse construction, racks, baskets, boats and totems. Out of respect for these ?grandfathers of the forest?, when natives cut a cedar tree, they would turn away as it fell to allow the spirit of the tree to escape back into the forest.
More recently, cedar has come into favor for boardwalks, decks, shingles, interior paneling, window boxes, play sets, fencing, animal bedding and mulch, and is being cut indiscriminately everywhere it is found.
Most cedar sold in the U.S. is now taken from British Columbia?s rainforests, as large cedar trees have been virtually eliminated from the U.S. Ninety-eight percent of logging in B.C. is in old-growth forests, so all B.C. wood products should be avoided unless they come from independently certified operations.
When we lose old-growth cedar, we lose one of the most ancient members of the rainforest. It is shameful to use these massive giants for frivolous things such as gerbil bedding.
Home Depot sells cedar as interior tongue-and-groove planking, exterior shingles, shims and garden trellises (Lattice Top Gate, Universal Forest).
Attaining a height of 280 feet, redwoods are the true giants of the west. Native and endemic (that is, found nowhere else) to northern California, Redwoods are a softwood (cone-bearing tree) with a red-colored heartwood that is highly rot-resistant.
Redwoods have been logged to near oblivion in their entire range. Only 3% of the original old-growth redwoods remain.
Recently, the Maxxam Corporation purchased Pacific Lumber, a family-owned lumber operation that had been logging selectively and fairly sustainably on their lands for generations. Included on their privately-owned lands were 60,000 acres of old-growth redwood groves.
In a hostile takeover, Maxxam obtained controlling interest in the company and began to liquidate its assets to pay off junk bond debt accrued in the late 1980s. Those assets include the redwoods.
Home Depot sells redwood dimensional lumber as 2x4s and planking in a variety of dimensions from Pacific Lumber.
This blond-colored softwood is native to the temperate rainforests of North America.
While much of the replanting of clearcut western forests has been done using Douglas fir, old growth ?Doug? firs are still being logged in the U.S. and Canada. Because mills will accept old growth trees along with second growth (most actually prefer old growth), it is difficult to specify companies or products. However, one can often differentiate old growth from second growth (replanted) by observing the grain. Old growth trees usually have a very tight (less than a millimeter width) grain. Grain is lines or patterns in wood usually caused by seasonal variations in growth. Also called ?rings? one can tell how fast a tree grew by how far apart each ring is from the next. Tight rings mean slow growth, wide rings mean faster growth.
In old growth forests, among competing trees and varying light and other conditions, trees usually grow much more slowly than they do in an artificial replanted situation.
A second growth Douglas Fir may get as large at 40 years as a 100 year old tree would be in a natural old growth forest situation.
Home Depot sells Douglas Fir with observed old growth grain as exterior doors (Morgan Northwoods Door) and 2x4s.
2x4s and Softwood Plywood
Much of the wood being consumed in the U.S. actually comes from Canada, with a substantial portion coming from the West coast province of British Columbia (BC).
BC currently holds about half of North America?s coastal temperate rainforests, an ecosystem type that once extended from northern California to Alaska. The vast majority of the coastal temperate rainforests in California, Oregon and Washington have been logged to oblivion and those in Alaska and B.C. are under heavy pressure from the timber industry.
About 40% of U.S. 2x4s come from British Columbia (mostly rainforest areas) and a similar percentage of plywood. As stated above, 98% of logging in B.C. is clearcutting of old growth forests.
While it is at this time impossible to say which 2x4s are from B.C., one should the note large percentage that are and act accordingly.
Home Depot and Rainforests
Tragically, Home Depot and other home improvement centers sell large quantities of tropical and temperate rainforest wood and rainforest wood-containing products.
What type of rainforest wood have you bought from Home Depot?
What Should I Do?
As alternatives to buying rainforest wood from Home Depot, consider borrowing tools from neighbors, or buying used tools at flea markets and garage sales. Consider recycled plastic lumber* (for poles, decks, garden ties, fencing or trellises) or other recycled materials (such as steel). Finally, if you must buy products containing wood, buy only salvaged woods, certified well-managed woods*, domestic second growth, or finally, tropical plantation woods (certified only).
For further information on recycled plastic lumber, salvaged wood or wood from independently certified operations, contact us at:
718/398-3760 (New York)
email@example.com (Portland, OR)
Rainforest Relief is a non-profit organization that works to end the loss of the world?s tropical and temperate rainforests by reducing the demand for products and materials of rainforest conversion. Rainforest Relief works through education, advocacy, research and non-violent direct action.