I’ve heard I should avoid buying wood products made

I’ve heard I should avoid buying wood products made from “old-growth timber.” What does that refer to, and how can I tell if something is made from old-growth wood?

Anna Hunt, Sierra Madre, CA

“Old growth” is often defined as trees that have been growing for approximately 200 years or longer. The problem, according to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), is that the lumber industry classifies trees by lumber grades, not age, and because old-growth wood provides the highest quality lumber, it is highly prized. Most old growth in this country is found in the Pacific Northwest and California.

*?D+?Tere hasn’t been much successful legislation to protect old growth in this country, it is possible to trace where your wood comes from and protect old-growth forests by boycotting products made from this irreplaceable resource, says Richard Donovan, chief of forestry at the Rainforest Alliance, which created the SmartWood forest certification program. “One can identify suppliers and then look at their forest management.” Donovan recommends buying forest products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainably harvested from a well-managed forest, and warns that the new certification label from the American Forest and Paper Association, created in 2002 and called the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) label, is not sufficient.

According to the Rainforest Alliance, few groups outside of the timber industry recognize the legitimacy of the SFI label. Organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council, and corporate leaders in sustainable wood, including IKEA, Home Depot and Kinko’s, use FSC-certified products in some cases because of pressure from rainforest activists. The Rainforest Action Network says the SFI label fails to protect old-growth forests, roadless areas and federal lands, endangered species and indigenous rights. RAN also recommends using timber alternatives when possible, such as recycled wood, composite wood made from plastic, and kenaf paper.

CONTACT: Forest Stewardship Council, (877) 372-5646, www.fscus.org; Rainforest Action Network, (415)398-4404, www.ran.org; SmartWood, (802) 434-5491, www.smartwood.org.