When we hear about endangered species, we generally think about living animals like pandas, gorillas, tigers, certain birds, and the like. There is another important category of living things that can also be endangered – plants and trees.
Some types of orchids, asters, and succulents are in danger of disappearing. Similarly, tree species that have been over-harvested for lumber show up on official lists of endangered woods.
The Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) oversees the import and export of endangered woods. CITES includes three levels of restrictions on endangered species. The highest level, Appendix I, makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to import certain species that are considered seriously endangered. Appendix II includes species that are “at-risk” but not in immediate danger of extinction. Some countries voluntarily list species to protect their future. These are listed in Appendix III.
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The most famous example of a CITES restricted wood is Brazilian Rosewood. Since 1992 this form of the genus Dalbergia has been an Appendix I restriction. While you can still get Brazilian Rosewood for use in making furniture or musical instruments like guitars, it’s limited availability and cost have significantly reduced its use.
More recently, CITES added all other forms of Rosewood, like East Indian, Honduran, and Madagascar, to Appendix II. It can still be used for building and imported and exported, but there are permits now required, and the amount of Rosewood that can be moved internationally is restricted.
This affects the builders of fine instruments like Taylor, Martin, and Collings Guitars, who are now retooling their operations to use other wood species like Walnut and Maple, which are not restricted. Resellers like the Denver Folklore Center see the new wood combinations coming into their stocks and are often educating buyers as to why there are fewer Rosewood guitars available.
And speaking of Taylor Guitars, they’ve expanded their business from building instruments to owning and caring for forests, like their Ebony forest, where they are responsibly harvesting trees to help keep Ebony from ending up as a restricted species.
In recent years many industries have seen the introduction of other materials to substitute for wood. Guitars are now available with Carbon Fiber bodies, and the construction industry uses steel and other metals to substitute for what used to be wood frames and braces.
As Bob Dylan taught us, the times are a-changing.