The Journey of a Cedar tree

It came as a surprise to me how much deforestation and illegal lumbering that occurs here on the Napo River. This is something I never thought about prior to my arrival here in Peru. One often hears about how the rain forest is being wiped out, well let me tell you a little more. Precious wood such as cedar and mahogany grow here in the rain forest. Obviously people pay top dollar all over the world especially the US to have a nice wooden table or cabinets.

The story begins, as has occurred over hundreds of years, with the poor being exploited without their knowledge. The local people know where the trees are and a “padron” will come speak to a small group in the communities or have someone gather up a crew and offer them a set amount for their work over a few months. There is no contract, only an informal agreement. Some of these workers come up river from Iquitos to work as well, not just locals. The lumber men then come up the river after it is gathered and take the wood, often telling the workers they will pay them after they sell the wood in Iquitos. As you can imagine they often never come back to pay the workers and walk away with hundreds to thousands of board-feet of wood. In the US, one board-foot of cedar costs about $15.00 for you or I to purchase. The workers have no rights and they cannot complain to anyone because there was no formal contract. They also have no idea how much the wood is worth. The workers if they do get paid get 1 sole per board foot or $0.38. The wood/logs gathered are pushed down the river by a boat. They have to pass a police checkpoint and right next to the port in Iquitos is the Naval base. None of the people have permits to lumbar in the region, but a small bribe and nobody sees anything. The wood is then cut in Iquitos and the lumbar sold to dealers. There is never a new tree planted and no re-forestation projects to prevent the loss of the rain forest.

Furthermore lumbering is very dangerous!!!!!!! We see accidents almost weekly and last week 2 men died, one whose brother Victor we know very well. Victor works here for the clinic has been working with Toni on the vaccine trip. It was a very sad day as the entire vaccine group went to the small town for the funeral so Victor could attend and see his brother one last time before the burial. 3 weeks ago a purchaser from Iquitos brought his adolescent son along to help out. As their boat was pushing the wood down river, there was a log-jam and their boat hit the logs and flew on top of the wood and flipped over. His son’s head went right into one log and he had a deep massive laceration on his scalp that took me an hour to sew back up. If he had lost consciousness when the boat flipped he would have drown in the river. The dad also has no formal contract and the lumbar companies do not pay for health care if there are any accidents. There is no training for the workers, no hard hats, nothing. There are probably 1-2 deaths a month from trees falling on people. I thought; how can you get hit by a tree? After helping carry the cross made out of 2 logs for one station on Good Friday this week I can now see how heavy a large tree would be, if you take into account the size of the tree, the fact that there are several surrounding trees and large branches that never get cut off first the risk is tremendous.

I am not saying to not buy lumbar, but make sure when you do ask if it is certified lumbar. Certified lumbar should have a stamp on it indicating its source or where it came from. Certified lumbar means that the companies have a legal right to cut the lumbar, their workers are trained and have contracts and they re-forest the areas that they take the lumbar from. More information can be found at


12 APRIL 2012

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