The tropical hardwood industry is a major contributor to rainforest destruction. Tropical forests are exceptionally diverse–a recent estimate suggests there are between 40,000 and 53,000 tree species globally. However, the forest products industry provides a decent market for only a small handful of these species. In 2007, the US imported 217 tropical hardwood species, but only a small fraction of these are well-branded with significant sales. The result is that tropical timber supply chains drive excessive exploitation of a few “high-value species” that are well branded.
After the harvest, they leave behind degraded forests that have very low economic value for forest communities. Logging operations create new roads into the forests, which open access to global agricultural markets. Forest communities respond by converting their low-value, exploited forests to crops and cattle pasture. It is estimated that 70% of deforestation in Latin America follows this pattern.