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Wood - Resources, Supply and Fair Trade

The insatiable demand for wood and the land resource on which it is based has led to the demise of forests in many areas of the earth. This we know well in Ireland and it has historically led to the extinction of the great cedar forests of Lebanon, indigenous forests of Asia and Oceania and today continues in the forests of Africa, Indonesia and South America. (See Geography Module)

Logging is a lucrative business with huge profits to be made. Global deforestation has led to the loss of biodiversity (an extinction of six species every half day: Loss of climax vegetation evolved over centuries as is evident over most of Europe; Loss of cultural diversity as in Papua New Guinea where 850 languages were lost and Brazil where some 90 tribes have disappeared.

There are strategies to deal with this. Awareness of the problem has been growing since the Rio conference in 1992 and has been reinforced through the Global Climate Change debate. Value is now placed on forests as carbon sinks and mechanisms are being developed to discourage deforestation though Carbon Credits (paid for by developed carbon emitting countries). Support to maintain, enhance and increase forests in developed (temperate) countries is also given under the banner of sustainable forestry initiatives. This involves replacing timber from threatened native forests with that from sustainable grown commercial forests. Consumer awareness involving environmental certification with transparency as to sources, management, harvesting and trading practices is enhanced through certification. Information passed and assistance to forest owners (especially small holders in developing countries) as to best management practices, and fair timber prices will take pressure off indigenous forests and allow owners develop sustainable plantations.

In Ireland we can play our part. Until recently we imported about 1000 tonnes of tropical hardwoods per week mainly from the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Brazil. Home grown quality conifers, particle board, laminates and increased supplies of hardwoods through additional broadleaf planting as well as imports from the significant supplies of sustainably managed temperate hardwoods is reducing dependency on tropical timbers.

We can act as responsible consumers in what we buy. Through the Internet we can keep abreast of what is happening worldwide and give support to communities for fair treatment in producing and trading properly managed wood resources and encourage our government to do likewise. Francis Bacons remark that Nature cannot be commanded unless it is obeyed still rings true and this attitude can provide a solution to the problems of the worlds forest resource, be they Tropical Rain forests or our own oak woods.