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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Vermont Company Partners With Rainforest Alliance To Promote Sustainable Logging

Workers cut Santa Maria logs into lumber at a sawmill in Guatemala, where Vermont WildWoods is collaborating with the Rainforest Alliance to preserve biodiversity and improve the local economy.

A partnership between a Vermont wood products company and the Rainforest Alliance aims to help preserve biodiversity and improve the local economy in the Petén region of Guatemala.

Vermont Edition spoke to Parker Nichols, owner of Vermont WildWoods, and Ben Hodgdon, director of forestry for theRainforest Alliance, about their collaboration.

On the collaboration

The Rainforest Alliance takes a multi-tiered approach to biodiversity conservation efforts by transforming land use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. The organization works with both international businesses and locally-owned community enterprises to ensure production standards.

"Ultimately what we're promoting are working landscapes as a counterpoint to what's been the dominant mode of conservation strategy in the tropics over the last few decades, which has been strict protection," says Hodgdon.

Fundamental to this model are responsible buyers such as Parker Nichols. In Vermont, Nichols owns a plank flooring and millwork company in Marshfield, Vermont WildWoods, that works exclusively with salvaged disease-killed butternut trees. In Guatemala, Nichols helps engage the public in conversations about working landscapes.

"It's important for me to help change people's public perception about cutting in the rainforest because there was a successful campaign of, 'Stay out of the rainforest, don't cut the rainforest', and so this concept of going in and treating different parts of the world as working landscapes is really a new concept," says Nichols.

On the working landscape

The implementation of working landscape practices may seem counterintuitive when considering traditional conservation efforts like strict protection. However, Hodgdon encourages a reevaluation of this mindset.

"What we've learned and what we've seen in places where you have strict protection next to areas that are working forests in concessions controlled by communities producing economic opportunity is that deforestation rates are much much lower, close to zero, in the active forestry concessions than in nearby strict protection reserves," says Hodgdon.

"This concept of going in and treating different parts of the world as working landscapes is really a new concept." - Parker Nichols, Vermont WildWoods

According to Hodgdon, strict protection has not been successful in preventing deforestation and promoting opportunities for the economic development of marginalized groups.

Locally, working landscapes have become embedded in the cultural fabric of Vermont, where approximately 20 percent of the land is used for agricultural purposes and 75 percent as forestry.

"That's one of the things that make people who live in Vermont so proud, is [our] working landscape and our farms and forests," says Nichols. "And I think it's time to change public perception to allow people to understand that, if done properly, this is a really good thing and is probably the best model to save our rainforest."

A Rainforest Alliance staff member stands with boule cut logs of lesser-known species, waiting for a market. Because prized species such as mahogany are often over-harvested, the Rainforest Alliance is working to interest businesses and consumers in alternative species.

On the impact of consumer demands

Mahogany wood is a big seller in the global timber market. In the Petén region of Guatemala, it has become the sole focus of harvesting, along with Spanish cedar.

"For lack of better term, it's a beauty contest. It's a popularity contest," says Nichols. "People love cherry.  They love maple. So it's an educational process of letting people know there are a lot of other great things out there."

To Nichols, this educational process includes introducing consumers and businesses to lesser-known species. In Guatemala, this could mean replacing mahogany with Santa Maria wood in order to diversify production and promote forest health.

"Deforestation rates are much much lower, close to zero, in the active forestry concessions than in nearby strict protection reserves." - Ben Hodgdon, Rainforest Alliance director of forestry

"In neighboring countries such as Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru where there is a sole focus on mahogany, there's clear evidence of over-harvesting, which which obviously puts the long term sustainability of forest management at risk," says Hodgdon.

Responsible logging and consuming are entwined, and Nichols hopes to promote a culture of awareness within the forestry industry. 

"It's sort of like the 'Who's your farmer?' bumper stickers," says Nichols. "It's like, "Who's your logger?' Who are these people who are doing it? Getting to know them and put a face on the people who are actually living down there and understanding that these are decent people trying to do the right thing."

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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