Petroleum, diamonds, silver, gold, and sandalwood are well-known examples. The rich red timber of tropical rosewood species (Dalbergia spp.) has joined this club of coveted materials.
It all begins with demand: Like precious gems and metals, rosewood is a material that customers are willing to pay disproportionate amounts of money for, relative to the local economy in the places that it grows. If those places suffer from weak governance, low observance of the rule of law, economic inequality and poverty, and widespread corruption, the potential for overexploitation, conflict and corruption rapidly becomes a reality.
Unfortunately, those socio-economic and political conditions are common in the places where rosewood grows and is logged, from the forest frontiers of the Amazon basin, Central America, the hinterlands of West and Central Africa, the Mekong River basin, and on the island of Madagascar, sometimes known as “the Eighth Continent” for its unique ecological biodiversity.
All of these conditions have made rosewood so vulnerable to over-exploitation that combined, over the past two decades, with rapid expansion of globalized trade in natural resources and the dizzying economic rise of China’s middle class, a “perfect storm” is threatening the fate of rosewood forests worldwide.
This was the challenge that faced the 17th meeting of the “Conference of the Parties” to the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species”—CITES COP-17 for short—when 183 countries that are members of the CITES treaty, gathered at their triennial meeting last Fall in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Despite a historical reluctance of governments to extend CITES regulatory controls to commercial timber species, COP-17 looked at the snowballing rosewood crisis and