Happy World Environment Day! As you know, Vermont Woods Studios is a wood furniture company, founded on the principles of forest conservation and we’re always trying to raise awareness about that cause.
Amazon Rainforest Conservation Project
Recently I traveled to the Bolivian Amazon to support the rainforest conservation work of environmental activist, Rosamaria Ruiz. Her work has been the subject of articles and videos in National Geographic and numerous other conservation magazines. It takes place in the Madidi National Park and at the Serere Reserve, the Most Biodiverse Protected Area on Earth. Here Rosamaria welcomes scientists, artists, writers, film makers, photographers, students and ecotourism lovers to help with her conservation initiatives.
Conservation Through EcoTourism & Volunteerism
Rosamaria funds her conservation work through ecotourism and also enlists the help of volunteers from all over the world. I wanted to share this with you in case you or someone you know might be interested in visiting or volunteering at Serere.
Serere is a unique biological gem! It’s relatively small 4000 hectare reserve is home to 7 species of monkeys, tapirs, sloths, jaguars, black caimans, many snake species (including anacondas), hundreds of bird species (including harpy eagles, macaws, herons, eagles, toucans, jabirus, and hoatzin) and a wide variety of fish.
Animals are congregating in Serere for the safety Rosamaria and her staff provide. Outside Serere’s borders this paradise is being eroded by illegal logging, gold mining, cattle ranching, sugar refineries, agriculture and the like. One of two things is bound to happen at Serere. Either it will disappear like the surrounding areas or it will be expanded due to the efforts of people like Rosamaria Ruiz and you and me.
Visit Serere and Experience the Rainforest!
I write to you on World Environment Day in hopes that you might share this message with anyone you know who might be looking for an ecotourism or volunteer opportunity in the rainforest. I believe Rosamaria would welcome the opportunity to speak with scientists, writers, photographers and other professionals interested in supporting her conservation work. If you have an interest, visit Rosamaria’s website Madidi-Travel.com to learn more! You can also feel free to contact me via Facebook | Vermont Furniture or email (peggy@VermontWoodsStudios.com) and read more about my trip to Serere are on my blog.
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).
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.
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).
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.