In the coming weeks and months, the citizens and municipalities of New Jersey will be faced with many decisions regarding rebuilding efforts following this catastrophic storm. One topic that will surely come up for debate is the use of tropical hardwoods in rebuilding our boardwalks.
Recently, Ocean City was forced to sell off lots of ipe wood that had been intended for use on the Boardwalk. Due to public backlash, the city went with the much less durable southern pine. This public backlash over the use of tropical hardwoods is well-intentioned but a result of gross misinformation.
Deforestation in the tropics, specifically the Amazon, is a problem. However, the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon is a result of ranchers clearing land for cattle grazing, not timber industries clear-cutting vast swaths of jungle and selling the lumber for profit. These people are in the business of selling wood, and any reputable timber company knows that without sustainable tree growth, they will not have a business in the future.
Refusing to buy tropical hardwoods does not help save the rain forest. It decreases the value of a sustainable product coming out of the forest, causing timber industries to suffer and, in some cases, leaving the forests open for clear cutting by ranchers.
Certification programs such as those managed by the Forest Stewardship Council exist to ensure that the wood coming out of the tropics is harvested legally and in a sustainable manner.
In addition, the United States has a law called the Lacey Act, dating back to the early 1900s, which exists to ensure that all timber being imported into the country was harvested in accordance with the laws of the country it was harvested in.
There is no doubt in my mind that our local governments will do all the necessary research to ensure that any wood purchased from the tropics for our beloved boardwalks is not only harvested legally, but from a sustainability-minded timber company.
If you want to help save the Amazon rain forest, don't boycott the products that give inherent value to a well-managed forest.
Lori Koch has a master's degree in forestry from Virginia Tech.