Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, November 5, 2007

Certified Wood and Bamboo

Wherever I look now, I see bamboo for sale--as houseplants, but also in all kinds of wood products and even clothing and other textile products. It's ostensibly "green," but there are some serious concerns, which are clearly and concisely discussed in a fairly good but short and simplified article in today's Salon Magazine. I hope that a certification program for bamboo takes off. But even more, I hope that people start actually paying attention to certification programs. It's a topic I covered in 101 Ways to Help Birds:

When you buy lumber or furniture, look for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or Forest Stewardship Council logo or buy used.

The earth is losing forests at an alarming rate for many reasons, including cattle production, agricultural crop production, commercial logging for lumber and pulp, and development. Deforestation causes enormous and wide scale environmental problems that hurt us as well as birds and other wildlife. Choosing products that are grown and harvested using sustainable methods helps all of us.

Global problems caused by deforestation include increased carbon dioxide and other gases. When trees are cut and burned to establish cropland and pastures, the carbon that was stored in the tree trunks (wood is about 50% carbon) joins with oxygen and is released into the atmosphere as CO2. According to “Earth Observatory”:

The loss of forests has a profound effect on the global carbon cycle. From 1850 to 1990, deforestation worldwide (including the United States) released 122 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, with the current rate being approximately 1.6 billion metric tons per year. In comparison, fossil fuel burning (coal, oil, and gas) releases about 6 billion metric tons per year, so it is clear that deforestation makes a significant contribution to the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere. Releasing CO2 into the atmosphere enhances the greenhouse effect, and could contribute to an increase in global temperatures.

Deforestation can cause dramatic changes in local climates. In the Costa Rican cloud forest, reduced rainfall and increasing temperature quite likely contributed to the extinction of the Golden Toad. This beautiful amphibian lived in the highland forests near Monteverde, called “cloud forests” because of the frequent formation of clouds and mist as moisture-laden Caribbean winds rise up the eastern slopes of the mountains. The humidity in those breezes is enhanced by moisture expelled from the leaves of lowland forests. But by the early 1990s, only 18 percent of the Costa Rican lowland forests east of the peaks remained. Pastures don't humidify the winds as forests do, and the atmosphere above pastures is warmer than that over forests. So winds off these pastures rise farther and farther up the slopes before clouds condense. Golden toads depended on high humidity, and their sudden and dramatic disappearance gave intimations of more extinctions to come.

We think of deforestation as a Third World problem, yet here in the United States, in the Pacific Northwest, less than 15% of our original old growth forest ecosystems remains. And according to the Seattle Audubon Society, although the Northwest Forest Plan decreased logging by 80%, the Forest Service continues to use mature and old-growth forests for 90% of their timber volume. Through the 1800s, the white pine forest dominating the Great Lakes region was almost entirely logged. Now most of that region’s forests are dominated by aspen, a pioneer species which is usually clear cut for paper and wood products such as plywood and particle board long before the forest could mature. And chip mills in the southeastern United States contribute to the clear cutting of over a million acres of forest every year.

When buying furniture and wood products, remember that used products save trees. And when buying new, remember that furniture made of saw lumber come from forests that were allowed to grow to a mature stage, making it a better choice than particle board and plywood, which come from forests managed for short rotation and are manufactured with an array of toxic chemicals. As with food, it’s far better to buy wood that was grown locally. Not only does it minimize environmental problems associated with transporting lumber but also you'll generally get more accurate information about wood that is harvested nearby than about products that come from far away.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are organizations devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests. They set standards that may ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way. Their certification programs are endorsed by hundreds of environmental organizations.