Mahogany survival is under threat

Posted: 21 March 2001

The lucrative trade in big-leafed mahogany threatens some of the world's most biologically diverse Amazonian rainforests, according to a recent report on the impact of the US mahogany business.

The United States accounts for 60 per cent of the global mahogany trade. In 1998, about 57,000 big-leafed mahogany trees were harvested and shipped to the US to supply a robust business in mahogany furniture. If history repeats itself, big-leafed mahogany will suffer the same fate as Caribbean mahogany, which is considered endangered and commercially exhausted. If this happens, the incentives for sustainable management of high value timber species will be lost, and the land will be converted to agriculture or grazing range. "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 of the data we analysed point to a not-too-distant future in which we could harvest big-leafed mahogany out of commercial existence."

Mahogany, especially big-leafed mahogany, is a keystone species, both ecologically and economically. One of the tallest trees in Neotropical America, it supports a multitude of plant and animal species and many healthy local economies. However, when it is over-exploited, both the ecological and economic functions quickly disappear.

The report, published by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring programme of the US-based World Woldife Fund, suggests three main solutions:

  • Consumers, importers and governments can demand and buy mahogany products that are certified environmentally friendly by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Currently, two US companies import FSC-certified mahogany, but the demand, and conversely, the supply, is increasing;
  • Big-leafed mahogany should be reconsidered for listing on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This will allow more regulation and protection of the species, while not outlawing trade;
  • The US government should increase import tariffs on minimally processed mahogany from Latin America (they are currently exempt), while lowering or waiving duties on products of non-threatened tree 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."

Click here to read the full report.