Green Harvest or a Talk with a Mill Owner
How do you determine the trees you cut for lumber?
We have leases (permits) for the trees on large parcels of land. However before we can take any tree we have to have the government and all the landholders in agreement. By landholders there may be 18 to 30 or more with each having a few hectares of land. Everyone has to agree.
Once everyone agrees you then cut the trees?
No, before we do anything the trees have to be identified by the government and get clearance paperwork. There are specific restrictions as to what trees can be taken. Specifically, there can be no more than one tree per acre taken. In addition, the government looks for older or dying trees. All the ipe trees have the middle missing when the tree comes down. They are virtually beginning to die by the time they are harvested. We have to be very careful when felling them. If the tree slips it could hit the ground and splinter greatly reducing the yield of lumber.
How important is the clearance letter?
There are government inspectors (Ibama) monitoring our trucks and skids. If the wood does not have the proper clearance it is confiscated. This can happen at anytime even after we are on the road to the mill. (NY Times: Brazil Government seizes illegal wood)
If the government is so involved does this mean the lumber is FSC certified?
FSC is not a government regulated entity. It is a self-certifying organization of lumber producing people that makes their own guidelines. They also regulate their own certifications.
What other issues do you face getting decking?
A big problem is the weather. We have to only about 4 months of good weather. The remaining 8 months are wet. The trees weigh tons and it is a lot of work moving them to the mill over soggy ground.
Tell me about the Mill. Are there any problems once you reach it?
Once at the mill we orient the tree to get the maximum yield of lumber out of the tree. The tree is marked by a specialist so the tree is turned with respect to the saw blades get the most decking and lumber. If the tree is too large we use chain saws to insure the tree fits into the mill. This sounds easy however remember two things. The tree weighs tons and frequently a dead or dying tree has the middle missing. We may not know how much the middle is decayed until it is sawed. This will greatly reduce the yield.
Why is Ipe so expensive compared to other trees?
Demand, Europe and China love Ipe. Europe is a bigger buyer of Brazilian decking than anyone. China is a big player but Europe is completely without trees and they buy very much.
Note: this interview took place in 2008