(NewsUSA) - More Americans might be driving hybrid cars and recycling, but their hardwood kitchen and living room floors can be just as critical to climate change.
No one knows exactly how much illegal hardwood enters the United States, but estimates range from $250 million to $375 million worth per year -- much of which is used for high-end flooring.
Most illegal hardwood comes from tropical rain forests, delicate ecosystems with high biodiversity. Tropical hardwoods protect the soil -- removing them prevents other plants from growing and allows rain to strip away nutrients from the soil. Studies have shown that rain forest deforestation accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gases.
In December 2008, the U.S. government amended The Lacey Act, its oldest wildlife protection statute, to discourage illegal hardwood imports. According to the amendment, anyone involved in the import, purchase or sale of illegal wood is subject to one to five years in prison and $100,000 to $500,000 in fines per violation.
The U.S. Customs Service monitors suspicious cargo, but too much wood is imported into the U.S. to catch every illegal shipment. However, consumers can take steps to avoid the purchase of illegal hardwood.
- Look for hardwood that is made in the U.S. Choosing American-sourced wood not only supports the country's economy, it helps to ensure that the hardwood is legally harvested from managed forests, which are a truly renewable resource.
- Beware of exotic wood products. Woods like Brazilian cherry or mongoy are much more likely to have been harvested illegally than non-exotic woods.
- Do your homework. Ask questions before purchasing your floor to make sure it is from a retailer that sources its hardwood products from a trustworthy, legal distributor.
- Consider domestic species of hardwood. Although woods like hickory, oak, birch and maple are grown in America, advanced staining techniques allow these species to have the exotic looks many homeowners desire without the risk of purchasing illegally harvested products.