Forest Crimes: Rainforest Wood to Replace Hurricane-Damaged Boardwalk

Very few of us here in the Northeast were left unaffected by “Superstorm” Sandy last October.

Although the hurricane’s landfall was in southern New Jersey, its swath of destruction measured thousands of miles. In Massachusetts, we saw power lines downed, topped trees, road closures, massive power outages and forced evacuations due to heavy flooding.

We more than most understand an eagerness to press forward.

As we work to rebuild, we need to bear in mind that the cost of our recovery should not be the further destruction of our rainforests.

Yet, that is exactly what we fear is happening in the Jersey shore town of Avon. Town leaders had announced their intention to use a wood product called ipe (pronounced EE’-pay) in order to rebuild the boardwalk.

Activists have decried the decision, estimating that it would take nearly 800 acres of old-growth tropical rainforest to be cut down just to rebuild this small stretch of boardwalk in this tiny waterfront town in New England.

Yet town leaders are refusing to back down.

Similar arguments were stirred up regarding New York’s Coney Island Boardwalk years ago. Tropical hardwoods, such as ipe, were used for years by the city in order to construct the walkways, piers and benches that people use daily.

The wood is favored for its durability, which is able to withstand strong winds, as well as foot and commercial traffic. North American hardwoods are not nearly as hearty and they don’t last nearly as long.

Still, since 2008, the city has been trying to move away from its use of ipe and other tropical woods, given the poor state of the trees’ Amazon rainforest origins. The United Nations has estimated that approximately 100,000 acres of rainforests are destroyed DAILY.

That’s why in many areas of Coney Island, New York has begun using concrete to replace dilapidated wood. It is the cheapest, most durable alternative, at $95 a square foot, versus $127 a square foot for hardwood.

And yet, Avon, NJ appears to be moving backward. They have received a $1.5 million commission to kick-start the reconstruction of the half-mile stretch, and say the wood has already been cut, packed and shipped.

We here at Rainforest Maker are strongly urging the town to reconsider the implications. If more people sought alternatives, the demand would significantly lessen.

truth of the matter is, the vast majority of logging in the rainforests is done illegally. This issue goes beyond just Avon, NJ. About two-thirds of the cost for the reconstruction is being reimbursed by the federal government through Hurricane Sandy relief funds – which means this is something for which we are all paying and for which we all have a responsibility to speak out against.

Ironically, using rainforest wood to rebuild structures devastated by storms actually only contributes to more storms. Trees help to balance our climate and keep our planet cool. Deforestation is a central factor in global warming, which in turn results in more hurricanes.

So not only is Avon’s plan troubling from the perspective of the people and species that call the rainforest home – it’s completely counterproductive for those of us who never want to see the likes of another Hurricane Sandy again.