Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Procuring Legal and Sustainable Timber

By Philip Miller
Published by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), 2004

First and foremost the CIOB are to be congratulated on conceiving this guide. An excellent start to improving an industry that until recently was wide open to criticism. The guide is both well conceived and well designed. But not well researched; it unfortunately has some very serious errors indeed and as it stands could be very misleading if anyone in the building industry used it.

As someone who was involved in lobbying for greater protection for mahoganies, from way back in the 1980s, one of the first things I looked at was the status of mahoganies in the various tabulations. Unfortunately the publication of this booklet, more or less coincided with the Conference of the Parties (COP) to CITES where changes to the listings took place (Bangkok, October 2004). However, he inclusion of all mahogany in Appendix II of CITES, was an important victory for conservation which took place at the previous COP, but to my surprise, I found the only species listed was Swietenia macrophylla, and only as Appendix III for ‘several countries’. Other species of Swietenia were ignored, as were several other timbers listed under CITES. This is way off target, and anyone who has any experience and knowledge of CITES should know this. Similarly the interpretation that Appendix III contains ‘Species [that] require additional protection in their country of origin’ is off mark. Appendix III is essentially species that have protection in their country of origin, but require international cooperation to enforce it. Even Appendix II is wrongly interpreted as ‘Potentially threatened species for which trade is allowed if there is no detrimental effect on the species’. This is a gross oversimplification. These definitions for CITES are closely followed by IUCN definitions of endangerment that make absolutely no sense at all, because the criteria they are dependent on are not included in the present volume.

I do not have the time, or the inclination to check the whole book for errors in the CITES listings, but if I find such glaring errors in the field in which I have expertise, I then am very dubious about the reliability of information in areas in which I lack expertise. And because of the serious nature of the errors I did find, I cannot recommend the book for use until it has been thoroughly revised by competent experts.

Review by John Burton

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