Conservationists Say Contraband Wood Trade Violates Treaty, Urge Halt

WASHINGTON (April 14, 2005) -- On the eve of the world's largest furniture show, in High Point, North Carolina, two national conservation groups called on leading U.S. furniture manufacturers to stop using imported Peruvian mahogany in their products. The groups, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Defenders of Wildlife, say nearly all of Peru's Big Leaf Mahogany exports are logged illegally and that 80 percent of the contraband harvest ends up in the United States.

Top-name companies that have acknowledged using South American mahogany include Stickley, Furniture Brands International (maker of Broyhill, Drexel Heritage, Henredon and Thomasville), Henkel-Harris, and Hekman. Other companies contacted by the groups, including Williams-Sonoma -- owner of Pottery Barn -- said they were unaware of the source of their mahogany.

Peru's inability to control mahogany logging makes it impossible for U.S. companies to know if they are buying illegal lumber, the groups say. The unsustainable logging is having devastating effects on indigenous Amazon communities, wildlife, and survival of the mahogany species itself. The exports violate a major treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

"American furniture makers are buying their mahogany from illegal sources because Peru is simply unable to control the logging. The consequences for the Amazon people and their forests are tragic," said Ari Hershowitz, NRDC Latin America BioGems project director. "We're urging U.S. companies to stop buying until Peru can organize a lawful, sustainable forestry system."

This week NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife sent letters to CEOs of major U.S. furniture manufacturers asking them to avoid buying Peruvian mahogany until the illegal logging is stopped.

Illegal logging has been a major problem in Peru for many years, but it accelerated after Brazil cracked down on similar activities in its rainforest. In late March, ParksWatch, a nonprofit organization associated with Duke University, released a report that found:

  • The Peruvian government is not enforcing national forestry laws and logging bans;

  • There is widespread illegal logging in supposedly protected areas in a major national park and on other lands where indigenous people live;
  • Peruvian timber companies are mixing legally and illegally logged wood for export;
  • Gun-toting loggers are killing indigenous people trying to defend their land with bows and arrows.

(For the ParksWatch report, click here.)

The groups say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to accept invalid export permits for Peruvian mahogany despite clear evidence the Peruvian government is violating CITES treaty rules requiring proof that logs are harvested legally and sustainably. The U.S. agency's lax attitude encourages illegal logging, the groups say.

"This wood is illegal as a matter of both U.S. and international law. It is illegal to trade in it, to import it, and to possess it. Even so, the Bush administration has done nothing to stop Peruvian mahogany from entering the country," said Carroll Muffett, director of Defenders of Wildlife's International Program. "We're asking companies to do what the president won't: Take real action to end illegal logging."