rosewood flitches

Timber

Trees provide a huge variety of products for humanity. However, it is their timber that provides the greatest contribution in terms of income. From tropical forests alone timber exports exceed US$20 billion per year, but this figure excludes the vast amount traded and used locally throughout the world.

Different trees species provide timber with varying strength, durability, resonance, colour and scent. As a result, only certain tree species are suitable for a given purpose or end use, whether it be for building materials, veneers, furniture, musical instruments, boats, cricket bats and more.

The global demand for timber has put huge pressure on thee wild populations of particular tree species.  For example, rosewood (genus Dalbergia) and ebony (genus Diospyros) trees, valued as a source of luxury furniture, have been logged intensively in recent years.

80 species from these genera were recently afforded some protection from international trade after they were added to Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

However, these species, and hundreds of others, remain threatened by illegal logging – a huge trade that leads to an estimated 100 million cubic metres of timber harvested each year.

Timber illegally harvested from a reserve in Cameroon. Credit: David Gill/FFI.

Timber illegally harvested from a reserve in Cameroon. Credit: David Gill/FFI.

What you can do

You can avoid contributing to illegal and unsustainable timber extraction by purchasing wood and paper products certified by the Forest stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC “tick tree” logo means you can buy these products with the confidence that you are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests.

It is also possible to purchase timber from species less threatened with extinction. WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network have produced a fantastic guide to lesser known tropical timber species. The guide helps you identify suitable substitute species that (a) have similar qualities and end-uses to threatened timber species and (b) can be sourced sustainably through FSC certified suppliers.

Examples of just a few of the world’s threatened timber species
The Paraná Pine (Araucaria angustifolia)

This species is endemic to the Araucaria Moist Forests of south-eastern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina. Since the 1500s, it has been valued as Brazil’s most important timber tree, used for everything from construction to pencils.

97% of the species’ original territory has been lost as a result of logging, followed by agricultural development, and the species is considered to be Critically Endangered.

The Honduras Rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii)

From Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, this tree produces an incredibly dense timber making it ideal for the production of musical instruments.

Its durability also makes it attractive for making fingerboards for violins, veneers for fine furniture, knife handles and much more. Recent high international demand for its timber have decimated stocks across southern Belize although its recent inclusion in CITES Appendix II should afford it stronger protection.

The Chinese Coffin tree (Taiwania cryptomerioides)

This conifer is found in eastern Asia and can grow to 80m high. Its timber, being light, durable and pleasantly scented, is used to make a range of high quality products including furniture, boats and coffins.

Logging and forest clearance have led to a major decline in its number and coffin makers – being heavily reliant on the timber – would see a great fall in income if it were to disappear.