A lot is said about the eco-benefits of wood grown is Asia, too bad much of it is the incomplete truth. To be sure, the idea of plantation grown trees sounds like a tremendous advantage over imagined alternatives. However, there is always more to the story. For several reasons, North American hardwoods, including our own hard maple, are superior choices.
1) Plantation grown vs. Forest harvested.
Plantation trees, such as rubberwood, are easy to envision as renewable and sustainable. However, what has that done to the natural, historical ecology of that land? It has been forever supplanted. Land was cleared to grow a crop, no differently than jungle cleared in South America. The biodiversity has been eliminated.
When trees are selectively harvested in our northern temperate forests, they are culled from the natural ecosystem. Modern logging techniques allow for minimal damage to the surrounding area and the natural forest continues to thrive and regenerate as it has for thousands of years.
Limited harvests actually increase biodiversity since the large trees are less dominant and most wildlife flourish with varied vegetation.
The images of a denuded landscape are part of the history of forestry throughout the world and it still happens in pockets, especially in third world countries. Generations of experience in land stewardship has taught better ways of management. In Vermont, forest coverage is increasing and, after the heavy logging of the 1800’s, is nearing that which the colonists saw when they arrived.
2) Chemical safe
Wood products that come from other parts of the world have sometimes been found to be chemically stabilized or treated against pests and fungus. The Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin says in reference to rubberwood (parawood): "Lumber requires chemical dipping to control blue stain and borer attack."
That is not used in general application in this country with our domestic woods. Air-drying and kiln-drying are the accepted ways of removing moisture from raw lumber to be ready for further processing. Maple will take on a “sticker stain” if it is not set up properly to dry. Adding chemicals is not the answer, good mill management is the solution.
Wood grown and used in manufactured goods in Asia has already traveled over 10,000 miles when it reaches the US market. Most American wood products factories are near their material source. Our main mill suppliers are within 10 miles of our shop and the trees are harvested in the local region.
If you think floating goods over the ocean is low impact transportation, you would be wrong. Ships burn some of the nastiest of fuels, especially high in sulfur. The largest of the super freighters are each said to pollute as much in a year as 50 million cars (16 of these ships equals all the world’s cars).
4) Honest dealing
This from Ethical Corporation: “And China is major importer of illegal timber from forests in Indonesia, Cameroon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea. Though accurate figures are hard to come by, the website globaltimber.org.uk says up to half of all timber imported to China in 2004 was illegal.” Corruption in the trade of commodities, such as timber, in undeveloped countries is common. Certifications can mean very little – look at the continuing incidence of lead tainted toys discovered at our docks, practically every week.
We will admit that a few years ago there was a case of timber rustling in Vermont, one neighbor got angry at another and cut a few of his maples.
5) Quality and beauty
While every attempt has been made to talk up the qualities of rubberwood, it just doesn’t match the durability and beauty of our maple. Sometimes called “Asian birch,” I’ve even heard it claimed that rubberwood was in the maple family (not even close). The high-pitched attempted to make it appear to be as-good-as, most likely means it isn’t.
The density of hard maple is 740 kg/m3, rubberwood is 600 kg/m3, and for reference, pine is 500 kg/m3.
The high incidence of fully painted imported toys is designed to cover the wood, and the defects it may contain. At Maple Landmark, we are actively going the other way, showing off the unmatched beauty of our wood.