GUEST POST: Dispelling Common Myths of South American Tropical Woods & The Environment

This guest post concerning South American woods and the myths surrounding them comes from Sean Stewart, president of Chicago-based Stewartfloor.

Brazilian cherry floor

You’ve probably watched the nightly news or surfed online and seen accounts of wrongdoings with the forests in South America. Sure there have been things less than proper which have occurred, but rarely, if ever are they explained in a way that would allow you to understand the situation in a 360-degree approach. In the end, the wood business is not the gross offender of the law it is made out to be.

In fact, agricultural interests have been the largest offenders in the Amazon with their desire for more land to raise cattle and grow soybeans and other commodity crops for internal use and the burgeoning export markets.

The forestry industry is largely made up of family owned businesses employing local workers, not large corporate or multi-national agricultural industries with significant political influence in the local or national government.

Governments and NGO’s have worked together to dramatically tighten and enforce laws, and police the land. As an importer of South American hardwood flooring, you must be in possession of an APHIS permit (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) from the USDA, which clearly states which botanical species of wood your company intends to import. This is balanced against the United Nations’ CITES listing for endangered species and provides a clear record of what a company intends to import. Companies are clearly held accountable for declaring what botanical species they are proposing to import.

In addition to the APHIS permits, importers must also comply with the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is designed to combat the trafficking in ‘illegal’ wildlife, fish and plants.  The 2008 Farm Bill (the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) amended the Lacey Act, expanding its protection to a broader range of plants and plant products. The Lacey Act makes it unlawful, as of December 15, 2008, to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration. Any importer is held legally accountable for ensuring that manufacturing partners have all the legal paperwork necessary to attain, own, process and export the raw materials that have been purchased with the intention of importing.

People love tropical wood for its natural beauty, hardness provided by nature and the fact that harmful chemicals needn’t be used to artificially gain or enhance physical properties, as has been common with certain domestic species. Tropical woods will last a lifetime or longer and the vast majority of the wood harvested and exported is attained legally. Several of the most commonly used species are Class A fire-rated which is the same as concrete and steel and do not succumb to termite attack.

Any responsible importer of such potentially sensitive materials should visit suppliers regularly and do everything possible to guarantee the provenance of the raw materials. Failing to ensure the legitimacy and responsibility of suppliers leaves the company in question financially liable if found to be importing illegally harvested material. All wood has to have the necessary paperwork before export. This all goes toward ensuring certain standards are met and produce is responsibly produced and harvested.

Sean Stewart is president and owner of Stewartfloor, based in Chicago. Stewartfloor is one of the leading importers of fine South American prefinished hardwood flooring. As a member of the National Wood Flooring Association, Stewartfloor sells only ethically and legally obtained South American hardwood flooring, which is Lacey Act Compliant. Ethical harvesting standards have reduced the impact on the environment through strict adherence to Forestry and Environmental Laws. Stewartfloor’s commitment to ethics guarantees that the prefinished Brazilian hardwood flooring they supply is of the highest quality and as promised.

Photo: 1Sock

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