US demand for mahogany threatens rainforests

The US is driving a highly lucrative, but unsustainable trade in big-leafed mahogany, says a new report from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring programme of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

According to the report, Mahogany Matters: The US Market for Big-Leaved Mahogany and its implications for the Conservation of the Species the US furniture industry accounts for 60% of the global mahogany trade, causing, in 1998, 57,000 big-leafed mahogany trees to be felled.

“Mahogany is often considered the Rolls Royce of trees, but if we aren’t careful, it may become the Edsel – commercially unviable and threatened with extinction,” said Chris Robbins, the report’s author. “All the data we analysed point to a not-too-distant future in which we could harvest big-leafed mahogany out of commercial existence.”

The result will be that incentives for sustainable management of high value timber species will be lost, and the land will be converted to agriculture, says the US WWF.

Robbins suggests three main solutions:

  • consumers, importers and governments should demand mahogany products that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council;
  • big-leafed mahogany shold be reconsidered for listing on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species), allowing more regulation without outlawing the trade;
  • the US Government should increase import tariffs on minimally processed mahogany from Latin America, whilst removing or reducing tariffs on non endangered species.

“Big-leafed mahogany is a valuable component of many local economies and should continue being harvested,” Robbins said. “It simply needs to be done in a more methodical fashion that ensures a long-term supply and the survival of threatened and endangered species.”

The report comes only shortly after the full-scale launch of Fauna and Flora International’s Global Trees Campaign, and their announcement that one in ten of all tree species are in danger of extinction (see related story).

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