This post is one in a series about Vermont Woods Studios’ mission of rainforest conservation and our support of Bolivian environmentalists dedicated to reforestation and ecotourism in the AmazonPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.

Conservation through ecotourism. Monkeys everywhere in the Serere Reserve of the Bolivian Amazon Rainforest
A troop of about 50 of these yellow squirrel monkeys visited the Casa Grande at Serere on our second day there.  For such small primates, they sure made a lot of noise as they come crashing through the canopy, leaping great distances between branches. They’re amazing to watch.

Serere Reserve:  Most Bio Diverse Place on Earth

My son Riley was volunteering last month at the Serere Reserve, a rainforest conservation project in Bolivia’s Amazon Basin.  Serere is part of the Madidi Mosaic, the largest and most bio-diverse protected area in the world.  Kendall (my other son) and I joined Riley for a week and although our “mission” was to learn about rainforest conservation, I have to say the highlight of our trip was living with Serere’s monkeys.

Spider Monkey with Riley | Volunteering at Serere | Conservation through Ecotourism
The best part of volunteering at Serere?  I think Riley might say it was getting to know the orphaned monkeys, tapirs and capybaras. Serere functions as a sanctuary for rescued wildlife, some of whose mothers have been shot and eaten by illegal loggers.

Monkeys Everywhere

Globally half of all primates face imminent extinction, as they face threats from loggers, hunters and smugglers.  But Serere is different and here monkeys abound. That’s thanks to the efforts of owner/operator of Serere, legendary environmental activist Rosamaria Ruiz.  Clearly, humans aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed her painstaking work in restoring the natural flora and fauna to the reserve.  Monkeys are everywhere!  During our short stay, we saw 5 different species of monkeys in the wild.  We also had the privilege of getting to know the resident spider monkeys.  After losing family members to illegal loggers these monkeys have found a safe sanctuary at Serere.  The area is constantly patrolled to protect wildlife and habitat– an activity that volunteers and guests often participate in.  It’s part of a “conservation through ecotourism” strategy.

Diego caring for an orphaned spider monkey | Conservation through ecotourism
Diego is the hospitality manager at Serere but his duties occasionally include giving a little TLC to orphaned spider monkeys. I’m guessing he never had to do that at the Club Med resorts he’s managed!

Serere’s Monkey Species

Here’s a run down on the types of monkeys we saw at Serere along with a few fun facts I learned on LiveScience:

  • Yellow squirrel monkeys (Saimiri) mate for life. We watched them grooming each other, intertwining their tails, holding hands, cuddling, and kissing.
  • Spider monkeys (Ateles) are named for their long tails and lengthy spidery limbs. They’re amazingly agile and can quickly walk on two legs across a tree branch.
  • Red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) When a troop of howler monkeys yell, they can be heard for up to three miles.  We woke up to their calls every morning. Great alarm clock!
  • Capuchin monkeys (Cebus) use tools. They can smash nuts with rocks, insert branches into crevices to capture ants for food, and use large branches to club snakes.
  • Nocturnal Owl Monkeys (Aotus) spend most of their time foraging and sleeping in the high canopy, above ten meters. They sleep in tree holes or thickets of dense foliage which may be shared with other nocturnal animals like bats.
Conservation through ecotourism at Madidi Travel in the Bolivian Amazon
Madidi Travel has posted many professional videos about their work with monkeys and rainforest conservation including several done in association with National Geographic magazine.

Voluntourism Helps Protect the Monkey Kingdom

Students, have you ever thought of taking a gap year to volunteer in conservation-related work?  Young professionals, maybe you’ve considered spending your vacation “voluntouring”? Families, are you looking to teach your children that they can change the world?  Teachers & guidance counselors, do you have students interested in primates or rainforest conservation? Researchers and primatologists, are you studying one of the monkeys listed above?

If so, consider supporting, visiting and/or volunteering at Madidi Travel’s Serere Reserve.  Here you’ll find a wonderful group of dedicated environmentalists using ecotourism to fund rainforest conservation.  Volunteer and guest programs are tailored to meet your needs and interests.  Check out the Madidi Travel website, follow Madidi on Facebook & Twitter and watch these videos about their work.  Then contact Rosamaria Ruiz to join the many scientists, artists, photographers and film makers from all over the world, who have volunteered their time and talent to conserve the wonders of the Serere rainforest reserve.

Rosa Maria Ruiz | Madidi Travel | Serere | Conservation through Ecotourism
Rosamaria Ruiz of Madidi Travel, owner and operator of the Serere rainforest reserve in the Bolivian Amazon basin.

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

This post is one in a series about Vermont Woods Studios’ mission of rainforest conservation and our support of Bolivian environmentalists dedicated to reforestation and ecotourism in the AmazonPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.

Protectors of the Amazon | Madidi Travel | Eco Tourism at Serere
Our tour guide, Severo navigating the waters of the Beni River in the Bolivian Amazon.  Severo is one of a team of dedicated environmentalists who protect and defend the Serere Reserve against illegal loggers and other predators.  Rainforest conservation through eco tourism is their strategy & 100% of their profits go to conservation work and the local community.

Why Does the Amazon Need Protecting?

We talk a lot about rainforest conservation at Vermont Woods Studios and I’m sure many people wonder why we’re so fanatic about it.  Part of the reason for our forest conservation mission is is my love of animals and wildlife.  And part of it is that humanity is destroying a precious resource (that took billions of years to evolve) at a rate that surpasses any previous mass extinction. Consider that:

Forests have completely disappeared in 25 countries and another 29 countries have lost > 90% of their forest cover.

Madidi Travel: Protectors of the Amazon

We’ve written before about who’s responsible for destroying the rainforest.  Today I wanted to tell you about people who are dedicating their lives to conserving the rainforest.  Last week Kendall and I visited Riley, who was volunteering for them at Madidi Travel in the Serere Reserve in Bolivia.  Ecotourism supporting conservation is Madidi’s strategy.  They are a team led by the legendary environmental activist, Rosamaria Ruiz (featured in this National Geographic article).

Diego and M Tapir | Rescue Sanctuary at Serere | Maidid Travel
Diego manages many aspects of hospitality at the Serere Reserve.  I imagine this job is rather different from his previous experiences managing Club Med facilities!  Here he and Monsieur Tapir are having a moment.  Madidi Travel uses responsible ecotourism to fund rainforest conservation in the Bolivian Amazon.  The Serere Reserve functions as a sanctuary for rescued wildlife, many of whose mothers have been shot and eaten by illegal loggers.  Kendall, Riley and I had an amazing time getting to know the orphaned tapirs, monkeys, chonchos and capybaras.

After decades of conservation work in the Bolivian Amazon, which resulted in the creation of the Madidi National Park, Ms Ruiz purchased a 4000 hectacre reserve known as Serere.  The land was severely damaged by illegal logging and other unauthorized exploitations but Ms Ruiz and her team have brought it back to life.  It is now one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse places on the planet (as you can see in this Serere video).

Can Eco Tourism Help Save the Rainforest?

With much of the reforestation already in progress, the job of patrolling the rainforest and protecting it’s inhabitants now takes center stage at Serere.  That’s where the strategy of ecotourism comes in.  Guests can join local guides on daily hikes and canoe rides throughout the reserve.  Thus the land is patrolled while visitors enjoy the amazing biodiversity of life in the forest (we saw 5 different species of monkeys in one day).  Learn more about ecotourism supporting rainforest conservation on this Madidi Travel video.

Having lunch with Rosamaria Ruiz and Madidi Travel team members
Having lunch with Rosamaria Ruiz,  Madidi Travel team members and volunteers.  We were in Rurrenabaque, the launch point for Amazon rainforest ecotourism adventures.  Now is the time to go, if you’re thinking of visiting the Amazon.  The US dollar is currently very strong in Bolivia and the need for your support of ecotourism is urgent.

 

 

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

This post is one in a series about Vermont Woods Studios’ mission of rainforest conservation and our support of Bolivian environmentalists dedicated to reforestation and ecotourism in the AmazonPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.

The Serere Reserve | Madidi | Bolivian Amazon Rainfdorest
The view of the Serere Reserve from Casa Grande, where we shared meals, plans and stories with the amazing people of Madidi Travel who are using eco tourism to fund conservation in the Bolivian Amazon.

The Rainforest & A Vermont Furniture Store

Where is the link?  Well, in the time it takes to read this series of blogs, an area of the Amazon rainforest larger than 200 football fields will have been destroyed.   Can you believe that?  Much rainforest destruction is done illegally, to feed the US markets for furniture and flooring.  Hmm… Vermont makes wood furniture.  With our 200 year tradition of  using local, sustainably harvested wood, we can provide an excellent alternative to illegal furniture imports.  At Vermont Woods Studios our mission is to raise awareness about the rainforest and persuade consumers to avoid illegal wood products (made from rare tropical woods like mahogany, teak and ipe) in favor of sustainable furniture and flooring made from North American woods (like cherry, maple, oak and walnut).

Massive tree in the Serere Reserve | Madidi | Bolivian Amazon
Riley is on the left, taking a break from his volunteer work to explore the rainforest with me and Severo, our knowledgeable (and entertaining) guide.

Finding A Way To Help

At VWS we’ve supported rainforest conservation since Day 1.  But quite honestly, donating our profits to reforestation NGOs (impressive and legitimate, as they are) operating 5000 miles away was not very satisfying.  We wanted to be more closely involved.  We wanted to see (and be a part of) the progress being made through our contributions.

My last post was about how my son Riley happened to end up volunteering for the legendary conservationist, Rosamaria Ruiz, of Madidi Travel in the Serere Reserve of the Bolivian Amazon Rainforest.  Perfect!  Kendall (my other son) and I went down to see Riley and offer to help Ms Ruiz with her efforts in reforestation and “conservation through eco tourism”.

Yellow Monkeys | Amazon Rainforest | Serere Reserve | Bolivia | Madidi
This troop of Yellow Monkeys crashed through the rainforest right in front of the Casa Grande where we were eating lunch. They seemed as curious and unafraid of us as we were of them.

Many Faces of Rainforest Destruction

After flying over huge expanses of the Amazon and trekking through the Serere Reserve, I realized there are many different rainforest destruction problems and approaches to solving them.  Some areas have simply been clear cut, the worst possible fate.  But “luckily” the Serere Reserve was ravaged by illegal loggers who were just interested in large, high value trees. For example, I did not see a single mahogany tree other than the saplings planted by Madidi Travel.  Cedar was also completely wiped out.  The good news is that, otherwise the Serere Reserve is still intact, extraordinarily beautiful & teaming with wildlife.

Ecotourism | Hanging with Monkeys & Tapirs in the Amazon Rainforest
The little spider monkey next to me is having a word with that 200 pound tapir nosing up to him.  The two are rescues who’ve taken sanctuary at Madidi Travel’s Serere Rainforest Reserve.  In many cases, rescued animals have lost their parents, flocks, herds or other companions to illegal loggers who shoot them for food or sell them as curiosities.

It’s an amazing place, filled with exotic birds, monkeys (we saw troops of howlers, yellow monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins and a nocturnal monkey all in one day) fish and other wildlife.  Serere is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet– it’s a nature lover’s dream.  Rosamaria says that wildlife is so abundant here because the animals feel safe.

Massive Rainforest Tree | Madidi | Serere
Although illegal loggers cleaned out the huge, high value trees from Madidi Travel’s Serere Reserve, there are still plenty of massive 200 and 300+ year old trees that will amaze you.

Conservation Through Eco Tourism

Last week I learned there’s more to rainforest conservation than planting trees.  In places where the rainforest is still standing, the goal is to protect what’s left and restore what’s been stolen.  Illegal loggers are a constant threat so rigorous patrolling and enforcement are always required.  That takes money.  Rosamaria Ruiz is showing rainforest communities around the world how to raise that money through eco tourism.  Devoted wildlife and nature lovers pay to experience the wonder of the rainforest, thus providing jobs for indigenous people to conserve and defend it.

If you love being up close and personal with nature, check out Madidi Travel and their eco tourism opportunities at the Serere Reserve.  It’s the last little corner of the Garden of Eden.  Get down there soon. The rainforest continues to disappear at an alarming rate.  The clock is ticking.

Amazon Rainforest Trip
On my way to the Bolivian Amazon,  I’m holding the National Geographic article I read 15 years ago, about Rosamaria Ruiz and her rainforest conservation work in Madidi National Park.  It influenced me to create Vermont Woods Studios.  On the right, I’m in the Amazon, helping Ms Ruiz’s team members who are re-planting mahogany trees.  It was a good feeling!

 

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

Rainforest Conservation | Sustainable Furniture and Flooring

This post is one in a series about Vermont Woods Studios’ mission of rainforest conservation and our support of Bolivian environmentalists dedicated to reforestation and ecotourism in the AmazonPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.

The Vermont Furniture – Rainforest Connection

Last post, I shared the mission behind our sustainable furniture company.  It’s rainforest conservation and here are a few reasons why that’s important to me:

  • Although the earth’s rainforests cover less than 2% of it’s total surface area, they are home to 50 % of the Earth’s plants and animals
  • We are losing the rainforest at a rate of 1 acre every second!
  • About 100 rainforest species are going extinct every day
  • What nature has crafted over hundreds of millions of years is being destroyed with no thought as to the consequences
  • Much rainforest destruction is a result of clear cutting huge areas of land by organized crime
  • The timber is used to supply cheap furniture and flooring to companies like IKEA and Lumber Liquidators
  • The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, storing 1/5 of the world’s fresh water and producing 20% of the planet’s oxygen

Vermont Woods Studios is my attempt to raise awareness about the plight of the rainforest and to offer sustainable, Vermont made furniture as an alternative to illegal imports.  At VWS we share our passion with customers and support non-profits dedicated to rainforest conservation.  We also plant a tree for every furniture order we take (through the Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees project).

Sustainable, Vermont made furniture as an alternative to illegal imports
Vermont Woods Studios is my attempt to raise awareness about the plight of the rainforest and to offer sustainable, Vermont made furniture (like this Cherry Moon dining table) as an alternative to illegal imports. We plant a tree for every furniture order we take work.

The Amazon is Disappearing:  How Can We Help?

I’ve always wanted to visit the Amazon rainforest to understand what’s happening there and find a way for Vermont Woods Studios to help.  But it’s a big place.  At 2.72 million square miles, the Amazon Basin is roughly the size of the United States (minus Alaska).  So where to start?

Serendipity Happens

A strange coincidence happened.  Riley (my son) took some time off from college this year to backpack through South America.  He called recently to say he’d be doing rainforest conservation work for a woman named Rosamaria Ruiz in the Bolivian Amazon.  For some reason that name rang a bell.  I pulled up Google and sure enough, Rosamaria is someone I read about in National Geographic 15 years ago (the article was written by Steve Kemper).  Ruiz is an award-winning environmental activist who led a National Geographic team through parts of the Bolivian Amazon and brought about the creation of a protected national park called Madidi.  Something else she had a hand in creating:  Vermont Woods Studios!  Her story and others like it planted the seed for our sustainable furniture company.

 

madidi-travel
Madidi Travel and founder, Rosamaria Ruiz safeguard a protected area in the Bolivian Amazon with the greatest biodiversity in the world: the Madidi National Park. Riley is currently volunteering there and Kendall and I will join him next week. 

 

Into The Amazon

So next week, Kendall (my other son) and I will be heading down to the Serere Reserve, an area of the Amazon rainforest conserved through the efforts of Rosamaria Ruiz.  We’ll meet up with Riley where he’s volunteering in the Madidi National Park*.  And we’ll ask Rosamaria and her team at Madidi-Travel what we can do at Vermont Woods Studios to support their efforts.  I’ll keep you posted.  If you’re interested to know more, check out these websites:

* Fun Fact:  The continental United States and Canada are home to about 700 species of birds.  Madidi National Park (with 1/10 of 1% as much area) contains an estimated 1,000 bird species

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

This post is one in a series about Vermont Woods Studios’ mission of rainforest conservation and our support of Bolivian environmentalists dedicated to reforestation and ecotourism in the AmazonPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.

A Passion for The Rainforest

I have a confession to make.  I did not start Vermont Woods Studios because I had a deep, abiding love of handmade furniture.  Mind you, I HAVE developed a sort of reverence for it over these past 10 years, but that wasn’t the driving force for me.

It was my passion for the rainforest that got this sustainable furniture company started. 

I think it may have been Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey who initially drew me into environmental conservation in the 60s.  Or maybe it was Mom, who had us kids outdoors all the time and kept a stack of National Geographic magazines handy for the rare moments we were in the house.

Anyway, for some reason, when I lost my job in 2005 I decided to quit the corporate world and get back to my youthful aspirations of doing something “green”.  I had become convinced that our generation’s most important conservation priority was to preserve the world’s rapidly disappearing rainforests. I wanted to focus the rest of my working life helping people understand the tragedy of this loss and the fact that they could do something about it.

Ken had just finished building a woodworking shop on the back of our house.  I thought maybe we could marry his woodworking background with my love of the rainforest to create a new kind of green business.  After several attempts and stumbles we came up with Vermont Woods Studios: a website where Vermont furniture makers could market and sell furniture made from sustainably harvested wood.

The company would be a vehicle to help us persuade people to stop buying furniture and flooring made with illegally harvested rainforest wood.  The plan was pretty detailed, even including a Manifesto.

 

Sustainable furniture and flooring
Global rainforest destruction is happening now at a rate of  1 acre per second. 60 seconds per minute. 60 minutes per hour, 24/7/365. It’s the greatest extinction in the history of the earth. Once the rainforest is gone, it’s gone forever.  Interested in conserving the rainforest and preserving the iconic species who’ve lived there for millions of years? Learn how your choices for furniture, flooring and other forest products can help.

Not That Easy Being Green

But soon reality hit and although I was always guided by conservation, I quickly learned that small businesses don’t have a lot of time or money for environmental projects.  We did what we could… making support of environmental non-profits (like the World Wildlife Fund, the Rainforest Alliance, Vermont Center for EcoStudies and many others in our own community) a cornerstone of our business.  We also work with The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees project to plant a tree for every furniture order we take.  And a number of times we’ve traveled to the rainforests of Costa Rica and Panama where we did some volunteering.

In retrospect I can say that we have made progress on our mission.

But I feel like we’ve fallen short in getting the word out that how we build and furnish our homes has a huge impact on the future of our planet. 

We have to figure out how to spotlight the difference consumers can make by choosing sustainably harvested wood flooring and furniture as opposed to that made from illegally harvested rainforest woods (think: Lumber Liquidators and Ikea).

A Trip to The Amazon

So I’m taking a trip to the Amazon rainforest. 

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the opportunity.  Next post I’ll share how this trip came about and what I hope to accomplish.  I am so grateful to our customers, employees and other allies who have supported our business throughout these 10 years, thus making such an endeavor possible.

Thank You!

This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.