Letter: Save the forests

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your report about endangered tree species (26 August) mentioned the problem of illegal logging but not the efforts being made to improve forest management and the efforts of the UK timber trade to ensure that imported timber comes from legal and well managed sources.

Tropical timber producers are committed to introducing sustainable forest management systems by 2000. The UK timber trade promotes an environmental timber purchasing policy, signed by about 100 companies, which requires signatories to seek documentary evidence of legal and well managed forest sources.

Consumers in the UK have a choice. They can boycott tropical timbers. This will decrease the economic value of the timber industry in those countries and their ability to invest in improved forest management and replanting. The forest will have less economic value and the incentive to clear for farming increases. Alternatively, they can continue to purchase these timbers and use their economic influence to introduce improved forest practices. This may well take five to ten years of gradual improvement.

The Timber Trade Federation has no problem with forest owners choosing to pursue Forest Stewardship Council certification. We welcome any realistic initiative which helps build consumer confidence in timber. However, the FSC-certified timber available is but a tiny fraction of the UK's annual requirement.

What are consumers to do? Wait until sufficient FSC certified material becomes available? Hardly a practical proposition. Or do they turn away from timber, concerned by articles in The Independent and other newspapers, and choose alternatives - a PVC door, an aluminium window - which will have a far more damaging environmental impact than wood?

The Timber Trade Federation's environmental timber purchasing policy is a practical way of making progress with timber producers who, in tropical regions, often operate under very difficult technical and social conditions. They deserve support, not condemnation, for the efforts they are making.