Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Demand For Wood Flooring Is Destroying Endangered Habitat

The Independent reports:
British shoppers are unwittingly playing a part in the destruction of one of the world's last great wildlife habitats by buying flooring made of endangered wood from "paradise forests".

Just as demand for mahogany is disfiguring the Amazon, demand for the golden wood merbau is doing immense damage to the forests of New Guinea, described as the place on earth that best resembles "the Garden of Eden".

Dozens of new creatures such as a new species of honeyeater bird were discovered in New Guinea by an expedition in 2005, whose co-leader, Bruce Beehler, said: "There were so many things, it was almost overwhelming."

In a report handed exclusively to The Independent, Greenpeace warned a "gold rush" for merbau was destroying the rainforest through the construction of new roads and the felling of trees to allow its removal.

The green pressure group estimated that, at current rates of legal logging, merbau would be commercially extinct within 35 years, though rapacious illegal logging means it may happen much quicker.

A report last year by another group, the Environmental Investigation Agency, found flooring companies were flouting rules on the tree's export. As a result of the report - published in The Independent - John Lewis and the builders merchants Travis Perkins and Jewson withdrew merbau from sale.

However, it is still on sale on many shops, including the UK's biggest builders merchants Wolseley at its Build Center chain; at Topps Tiles, the biggest tile and flooring specialist; and at Floors 2 Go, the single biggest flooring shop. Other well-known carpet and kitchen stores also stock merbau.

None of the companies wished to comment on Greenpeace's findings. Merbau grows to more than 100ft and is prized by developers because its wood is flecked with yellow, giving it a golden hue.

The tree used to grow throughout south-east Asia, Oceania and east Africa. Now, only the island of New Guinea, which is divided between Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua Land, has enough trees for commercial logging.

Even on the island, most merbau has been eradicated from 60 per cent of its historic range, warns Greenpeace in the report, Merbau's Last Stand.

China has emerged as the largest export market and its merchants are alleged to be smuggling supplies by using forged paperwork. But blame is also laid at the door of the global flooring companies whose brands are sold legally on British high streets by household names.

The report complained: "Most large international flooring producers include merbau in their product ranges, with the majority of them sourcing the wood from untraceable sources in Indonesia. Few, if any of these producers are able to credibly prove the full legal origins of their merbau supply."

The World Conservation Union's red list last year categorised merbau as "facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future."

Greenpeace has advised shoppers to only buy wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and called for merbau to be listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) with quotas restricting its trade, and for Britain and other countries to ban the import of illegally imported wood.

What to buy

* Whatever wood you choose, green groups say you should make sure your furniture or flooring does not hurt the planet.

Greenpeace recommends buying products that have the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Many DIY chains ensure their timber is sustainable. But garden furniture and plans for flooring still appear on the high street without any guarantee they have been ethically sourced. "We have got progressive retailers who are taking these issues seriously and selling wood certified by the FSC - the only way to ensure you are buying sustainable wood," said Greenpeace.