The Department of Parks and Recreation, Friends of the High Line and the Hudson River Park Trust acquire their ipê from the Amazon. According to the government of Brazil and numerous environmental groups, 80% of logging in the Brazilian Amazon is done illegally. Criminal syndicates, which own many of the logging operations, bribe officials, use forced labor and, on the frontiers, literally out-gun Brazil’s environmental regulatory agency.
The ipê of our City’s infrastructure has been linked not just to global warming but widespread human misery. Many people are familiar with the concept of blood diamonds—diamonds produced by violent cartels and forced labor. But what they might not know is that blood timber exists as well. And if you’re importing wood from the Amazon, that’s most likely what you’re getting.
The story of Sister Dorothy Stang, a woman born and raised in Ohio, illustrates just one facet of the human tragedy of Amazonian deforestation.
Sister Dorothy became a nun, the kind who practiced liberation theology, who believed that God could be found right here, on the land and among struggling people. During the last two decades of her life, Sister Dorothy served in the Brazilian Amazon, where she worked ceaselessly to protect the rainforest and peasants from violent loggers and ranchers and speculators, all vying for resources.
Sister Dorothy saw human rights and environmental conservation as intertwined, and she worked to transform poor settlers into cohesive, environmentally conscious communities.
“The death of the forest,” she said, “is the end of our lives.”
Her last mission ended on the morning of February 12, 2005, when two gunmen confronted the petite 73-year-old nun on a secluded jungle path. A conversation ensued, overheard by a witness who later testified at the men’s trial. Sister Dorothy admonished the gunmen—the land was not theirs, they had no right to plant pasture grasses for livestock.
“So, you don’t like to eat meat?” one of the assailants taunted.
“Not enough to destroy the forest for it,” she replied.
“If this problem isn’t resolved today, it’s never going to be,” the man said.
As the man reached for his gun, Sister Dorothy opened her Bible to Matthew and read from Chapter 5: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.” As she turned to go, the man leveled his revolver and squeezed the trigger.
In Brazil, the events set in motion by logging are almost always more destructive than the logging itself. Once the loggers and first wave of mercenaries have moved on, their roads serve as conduits for an explosive mix of squatters, speculators, ranchers, farmers, and additional gunmen like the ones who assassinated Sister Dorothy.
Quite simply, without the massive demand for ipê and other tropical hardwoods, the cartels wouldn’t be able to operate. Tropical wood is the only resource profitable enough to fund the expensive, difficult work of punching openings into old-growth forests.
We want to make clear the culpability of NYC officials: while scientists say that tropical deforestation begins with a logging road, we know it begins here, in bid orders, when agency heads demand rainforest wood instead of alternatives.
IPÊ IN THE CITY
Hudson River Park (from Battery Park City to 59th Street)
Hudson River Park Trust, under Chairperson Diana Taylor, decided to use ipê for all the benches and decking along the waterfront.
How ironic that HRPT named one of their waterfront projects the “Nature Boardwalk.” The so-called Nature Boardwalk sits near Canal Street and is built with ipê. To construct this thing, HRPT deforested the Amazon, exacerbated climate change and funded criminal syndicates. And now they claim that this boardwalk has anything to do with nature?
It reminds us of all those suburban developments—Oak Grove, Cedar Knoll, Forest Glen—named after the very things they destroy.
According to Ms. Taylor, 50% of the park renovation is now complete and an additional 30% is currently under construction.
Please contact Ms. Taylor and tell her to reconsider at least the last portion of her project.
Benches and Boardwalks in the Five Boroughs
The Department of Parks and Recreation has used ipê for almost all the tens of thousands of benches in the five boroughs and for the decking of 12.5 miles of coastal boardwalks, including the infamous Coney Island boardwalk.
Calculating the average size and growth area of the ipê tree, as well as the grade, length and quantity of board footage by Parks, we’ve estimated that our boardwalks have resulted in logging over 125,000 acres of old growth Amazon rainforest—and that’s just counting the initial conversion.
However, the damage is far worse than that. During the 1960s, Parks first renovated the Coney Island boardwalk with ipê, making New York City the first U.S. city to use tropical hardwood for a boardwalk. Since then, wood importers have used the high profile of Coney Island and, later, Atlantic City, to initiate the national, even international, trend of coastal boardwalks, and, subsequently, home decking, fencing and siding, comprised of tropical wood.
Still, there is some good news to report. After a decade of Rainforest Relief campaigning, in December 2007, Celia Peterson, director of the Parks Specification Office, stated that the agency stopped using tropical hardwoods for city benches, thus sparing 50,000 board feet of rainforest wood each year.
Currently, Parks is experimenting with alternative materials, including recycled plastic lumber, as they prepare to renovate the boardwalks of Coney Island again. It would be amazing if we could set another kind of trend here, one that makes our City a showcase on urban planning in the wake of climate change and dwindling old growth forests.
Please contact Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and tell him its time to think greener and bigger than ever before.
Tel: (212) 360-130
Fax: (212) 360-1345
On-line form: http://nyc.gov/html/mail/html/maildpr.html
Alternatives to Rainforest Wood
Rainforest Relief Page on Ipê
New York Times on Sister Dorothy Stang
Greenpeace Depicts Deforestation in the Amazon
“Farming the Amazon” – National Geographic
“Last of the Amazon” – National Geographic