What is a Tropical Forest?

The definition of a tropical forest has been bothering me of late, because of LEED. Then I discovered that CARB’s been working on it too.

CARB, you ask? Aren’t they the formaldehyde people? Are they worried about jungle emissions now?

No, not exactly—they are trying to come up with a policy for recognizing carbon credits. As part of that they had define what a tropical forest is. They have proposed this:

“Forest” or “tropical forest” means native forests within the tropics…. “Native forest” means forest occurring naturally in an area. Native forest must maintain a diversity of native species and multiple ages. Native forest do not include monoculture or industrial plantations.

That makes sense to me. It is detailed enough and avoids confusion. It also recognizes that there are a lot of plantations grown in the tropics that should be treated differently.

(If you want to learn more, you can see additional documents at their the top page for their Tropical Forest Standard. And if you want to learn more about the types of tropical forests, Wikipedia’s got a pretty good simple page on it with links to more complicated definitions. They aren’t all wet dark jungles, you know.)

I’d like to see this definition adopted by LEED, which just says “a tree species is considered tropical if it is grown in a location that lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn” and provides no allowance for plantation material. LEED wants tropical material to be FSC and when it’s a prerequisite for a rating system, they are inflexible. Here’s a ruling where they said that if non-FSC tropical wood was installed in a building accidentally, it “must be removed; it should be disposed of in a responsible way – such as selling or donating it for reuse.” Now really, tell me how is that green?

I’ve previously written about the pros and cons of plantations. LEED used to strongly promote plantation production with many versions of LEED containing “rapidly renewable” credit categories. The newer versions are moving away from that towards a broader product review which I believe is a better approach. But they shouldn’t be making it impossible to use plantation material based on location. The tropical countries often need to develop plantation programs to recover from deforestation or reduce pressure on native forests. We don’t want to eliminate that incentive.

Frankly, it’s kind of rare for me to hope that something created by a California agency spreads nationwide, but I would like to see CARB’s definition of a tropical forest adopted more widely.

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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