Together, Guatemala and Mexico accounted for roughly 85% of total forest-grown Genuine Mahogany (Swietenia) lumber shipments imported into the United States over the past year.
They are market leaders despite the relatively small size of their forest when compared to other Genuine Mahogany exporters such as Brazil. Just one forest concession in the much larger Brazilian Amazon forest, where Genuine Mahogany also naturally occurs, is more than 1/3 the size of all forest concessions combined in Guatemala.
What’s even more remarkable, is that the commercial logging of Genuine Mahogany in the Maya forest of Guatemala and Mexico has been going on for hundreds of years. In her publication, Laura Snook (1998) provides good detail of this history, summarized here:
- the Maya, who have inhabited the area as early as 1500 BC, used the Mahogany for canoes to trade long distances;
- as early as the 1500’s the Spanish conquistadors used Mahogany for construction, shipbuilding, and furniture;
- in 1629, the Spanish Navy established a shipyard in what is now Veracruz, Mexico in order to exploit the Mahogany resource;
- as early as 1683 the British were harvesting Mahogany from the area;
- and as early as 1846, 85 million board feet of Mahogany were shipped from the forest to English ports.
Given the long history of logging, the relatively small resource, and today’s high volume of exports, one might expect the timber concessions of the Maya Forest to be experiencing high rates of deforestation.
Instead, the forest where much of the logging occurred in the past and is occurring today remains under forest cover, even outperforming protected area systems in retaining forest cover.
While major international organizations and some local governments continue to spend large amounts of financial and human resources on unproven initiatives that tax and dis-incentivize investments in the forest products industry, especially in the tropics, perhaps the lesson of Genuine Mahogany and the Maya Forest proves that the opposite approach – investing in the intensive management of forests for the commercialization of high value species and their ease of trade – already works (and has done so for a long time).
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