Target: Zhou Shengxian, Minister of Environmental Protection in China
Goal: Halt illegal logging activity threatening endangered tree species
China’s soaring demand for Siamese rosewood has fueled the depletion of South Asian forests home to this rare tree. The Chinese have prized the tropical wood for its rich hue and attractiveness when made into fine furniture. Cultural value of rosewood dates as far back as the Ming Dynasty 600 years ago, but China’s current demand comes partly from the wood’s function as a form of wealth security: many Chinese invest in the wood as an alternative to stocks.
What’s more the skyrocketing demand for Siamese rosewood has triggered a violent wave of crime revealing the horrifying human cost of the trade. Traders of the wood target people in impoverished villages, paying them in cash or methamphetamines to cut down the trees. Though many countries with remaining Siamese rosewood either ban logging or export of the timber government officials often take bribes from traders, according to a report by the London-based environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Meanwhile both loggers and forest rangers have been killed during shootouts involving the use of rockets, chainsaws, and even rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Now only 100,000 of the trees remain in Thailand. A very small number are spread among neighboring countries, according to recent surveys by the EIA. With forests requiring 50-100 years to produce timber the destruction of these trees represents a profound loss. Logging continues to be completely unsustainable, and the rapid expansion of illegal logging activity is denying these forests their only hope for recovery: time.
Because China represents such a huge market for rosewood, support for conservation among the country’s officials is key. Call on them to raise awareness of this environmental and human rights crisis, push for alternative forms of economic security for Chinese citizens and change the fate of these threatened and beautiful trees.
Dear Minister Zhou,
I am writing in regards to the depletion of forests in the Mekong region for tropical Siamese rosewood. In Thailand, only 100,000 of these trees remain. Given that these forests requiring fifty to one hundred years to produce timber the rapid expansion of illegal logging activity–fueled by a soaring demand in China for the wood–presents a serious threat to the survival of these ecosystems.
The illegal trade in rosewood has also triggered a wave of violent crime. Rosewood traders bribe impoverished communities with cash and methamphetamines to cut down the trees. Furthermore, both loggers and forest rangers have been killed during violent shootouts. This profound toll on human lives makes the issue even graver and immediate action more urgent.
I understand that the wood has immense cultural value, having been prized since the Ming Dynasty six hundred years ago. Likewise, in the present day, the wood also represents a form of wealth security for many Chinese. However should logging of rosewood continue at currently unsustainable levels we are in danger of losing these forests altogether.
I urge you to change the fate of these ecosystems by pushing for alternative forms of economic security for Chinese citizens, and raising awareness about the human and environmental costs of the trade. The health of communities and forests throughout the Mekong region hang in the balance.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Erik Patel via Wikimedia Commons