The species, Swietenia Macrophylla, or Big Leaf Mahogany is found in the rainforests of southern Mexico, South America, Brazil, and Bolivia. This beautiful tree takes 100 years to mature and stands up to 150 feet, taller than most of the other trees in the rainforest. Because it helps protect smaller trees and plants by providing a shelter over them, the felling of these trees is causing losses in other types of vegetation as well.
A major problem for the Big Leaf Mahogany tree is that the legally obtained trees are always the best in the forest-mature ones which contain the seeds necessary for the continuation of the species. No seeds are left for re-growth, and the younger, and now more exposed trees do not have the proper light and protection.
Due to the beautiful grains and color in mahogany, the wood has been used for years in building fine furniture, cabinets, and musical instruments. The Big Leaf Mahogany in particular has been used commercially so extensively that it has now been put on the endangered species list. Big Leaf Mahogany has replaced two other now commercially extent varieties of mahogany (Caribbean and Honduras mahogany) and seems destined to follow their path since little has been done to curb the exploitation of this magnificent tree. There is little incentive to do so since it leads all other commercial timber in Latin America. The problem is that it is being logged in places such as parks and private farms, where it is illegal to do so, and then being traded illegally across borders.
What is or has to be done to prevent commercial extinction?
Since the Big Leaf Mahogany has just recently been put on the endangered species list, the fight to keep it from going extinct has just begun.
There have been regulations devised to hinder illegal logging of the Big Leaf Mahogany. Unfortunately, the regulations are barely enforced in some countries.
Some countries have voluntarily placed export quotas on the wood to curb illegal trading.
Some countries have established a minimum diameter for cutting.
An international standard needs to be put in place to prevent illegal trading and selling of this beautiful tree across borders. Currently, it is difficult to determine if any certain kind of mahogany item is obtained illegally.
What can be done to protect this endangered species?
Even if the Big Leaf Mahogany is soon to be extinct from commercial use, the species itself can be spared.
Enforcing laws that prevent logging in parks and private farms is essential.
We can help individually by not buying anything made of mahogany that is not stamped with a trademark from a certified forest. The Forest Stewardship Council trademark is a good indication that what we are buying has not been made illegally.
Timber may be a good investment. There are companies who invest in rare tree populations that are grown on plantations and farms. We can buy shares in these companies and help to promote the legal logging activities of these beautiful trees.