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Assuring Legality: Protecting Wildlife
A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Meranti’s Role in Organgutan Conservation

Meranti/lauan (Shorea spp.) is a crucial plywood component for many industries. Furniture makers, cabinet makers, boat, RV and manufactured home builders prefer meranti because of its versatility. It is lightweight, durable, smooth, sustainable, low-emitting, affordable, and yes, imported.

There’s another big fan of the trade and use of meranti and it has nothing to do with mechanical properties. Orangutans are huge enthusiasts. They’re fans because trade in meranti, and other forest products, provides Sarawak Forestry with the funding it needs to protect and expand the orangutans’ native habitat, and operate a world-leading rehabilitation and research center for orangutans and other wildlife. The rehabilitation center helps orangutans that were kept as pets, poached for trade or experienced habitat loss due to agricultural development, get ready for reintroduction into the wild.

Let’s take a trip along the supply chain to reveal how U.S. manufacturer and consumer use of tropical wood products makes a positive contribution to an orangutan’s native environment.

The Country
Our trip begins in the forests of Sarawak, Malaysia. Sarawak is the country’s largest state, located on the northwestern shore of the island of Borneo. The rainforests of Sarawak are home to an exotic and  diverse array of animals and plants – including the iconic orangutan.

Sarawak’s people take great pride in their ability to protect this amazing eco-system. The country has committed to keeping at least fifty percent of its land under permanent forest cover and has developed an extensive system of protected areas. Quite an impressive feat when compared with the Unites States which has 4.5% of land protected as natural wilderness.

The progress made by Malaysia in sustainable forest management was institutionalized by a joint decision of industry and the government to embrace certification and eco-labeling. The Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) was formed to develop and regulate the process of certifying forestry practices to a set of science-based criteria for environmental considerations combined with social and economic requirements to protect indigenous rights.

The MTCC requires forestry operations to put safeguards in place to protect rare, threatened and endangered species and their habitats. Because MTTC requires audits of forestry operations it can be argued that wildlife is more protected in a working, commercial forest than in some other habitats.

Roy Polatchek, President, Liberty Woods International, observes, “Contrary to what some may believe, logging on properly managed forests can actually help to maintain forested lands. Often it is the case that logging bans placed on forests have unintended results of entire loss of forests. Logging bans reduce the forested land value to near zero, giving land owners incentive to clear cut the land to make way for alternative land uses, usually agricultural in nature.” A thriving international market for tropical hardwoods helps to ensure the existence of forested lands for generations (both human and wild) to come.


Much like in the United States, forestry laws in Malaysia are implemented by state governments with oversight and technical assistance by the federal government. The government grants long-term leases of forest concessions to private enterprises. Timber companies manage the concession by creating forest management units, which in turn are sub-divided into smaller areas for management and conservation.
Sarawak has committed to keeping at least fifty present of its land under permanent forest cover and has developed an extensive system 
of protected areas.

The pre-harvest phase includes a forest inventory to identify trees and species to protect and notes the others that can be harvested. From this information an operational plan is drafted that involves careful consideration of road construction. Any opening into the forest must be constructed with the least amount of disturbance to the forest and include plans to close the roads after logging to prevent future entry.

All harvest aspects are carefully planned: cutting, directional felling and extraction. For example, before trees are even harvested, vines that crisscross the tree canopy are removed. This reduces damage to surrounding trees at the time of harvest, and helps keep most of the canopy intact for wildlife habitat. Harvesting itself employs reduced impact logging (RIL) techniques that further minimize collateral damage to the forest through the use of preharvesting, harvesting and post-harvesting planning and design. A post-harvest evaluation determines the degree and effectiveness that RIL practices were followed. Logging companies are charged with making corrective measures if any faults are found.

The decision to invite third-party auditing through the MTCC has given industry and government added assurances that Malaysia employs best practices in forestry.

The next step of the journey takes us to a plywood processing plant. The road trip is carefully tracked by the timber companies via GPS instruments mounted on trucks. There are also “spot checks” along the way by government officials to match the cargo with the required “removal” pass. Unloaded at the sawmill, a log tally is kept which matches each log with a removal pass. Log volume input and output production is checked and verified. This is another measure taken to ensure a legal chain of custody from the forest to the mill. All mills are licensed and subject to annual audits.

Our visit takes us to Jaya Tiasa Timber Products Sdn. Bhd. Jaya Tiasa is a recognized leader in the timber industry known for its dedication to sustainable forestry and corporate social responsibility. Jaya Tiasa’s LC Woung, Sales and Marketing Manager, says “We are proud to operate under a regulatory framework that protects our environment. Jaya Tiasa understands that good environmental practices and careful management pay dividends to our country, our forests and our employees.”

Like other forest product companies, Jaya Tiasa operates under the supervision of the Sustainable Forestry and Compliance Unit of Sarawak Forestry. Working with the timber industry, non-timber producers and rural communities, Sarawak Forestry manages the State’s forest resources according to current sustainable forest management techniques.

Shipping lines are a crucial part of the journey. Once plywood is processed and ready for shipment, a company must prove they hold a valid export permit. Sales and tax information is also submitted along with the manufacturer’s name and the processed timber’s batch number. This data all becomes part of the numerous checks and balances which take place even before the cargo is loaded. Ocean carriers must submit a cargo declaration 24 hours before cargo is loaded in a foreign port bound for the United States. Other procedures verify cargo against delivery orders and other documents.

The checks and balances on imported wood do not stop at the country of export or at the U.S. port. Now, U.S. customers benefit  from the Lacey Act by gaining additional legal assurances.

The checks and balances on imported wood do not stop at the country of export, or at the U.S. port. Now, U.S. customers benefit from the Lacey Act by gaining additional legal assurances. Don MacMaster, President, Argo Fine Imports, who has been sourcing plywood from Malaysia for years, tells his customers, “Although the supply chain is long, the systems now in place provide robust assurances that imported plywood and other products are on par with domestic wood products when it comes to legality and sustainability.”

The forests of Malaysia are rich in biodiversity and provide its people with a renewable economic resource. In the state of Sarawak alone, it is estimated that forestry provides 80,000 direct jobs. Chris Connelly, Vice President and General Manager, International Division, North Pacific Group, states “Imported wood products not only fulfill the material needs of the marketplace, but also support local economies and raise the standard of living for forest dependent communities in developing timber-producing countries.”

The U.S. industry also benefits from Malaysia’s wood exports. U.S. manufacturers are smart sourcing their production and incorporating components where they make sense, as is the case with meranti/lauan plywood. As market demand for imported wood rises, so do jobs and economic conditions at U.S. ports, factories and throughout the distribution chain.
Now, let’s get back to those orangutans. These tree-dwelling primates live in tropical rainforests where their diet is comprised mainly of fruits. Orangutans use the forest as their homes and also use forest products (branches and leaves) to build nest platforms for rest and sleep.

In addition to trade helping Sarawak Forestry preserve and manage Malaysia’s natural forests for the orangutan, Sarawak Forestry went a step further and established the Semengoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in 1975. Currently the Centre hosts 25 orangutans, of which 14 were born there. The Centre has been a resounding success, caring for almost 1000 endangered mammals, birds and reptiles from dozens of different species.

U.S. manufacturers have made a tangible difference on the ground for orangutans through their specification and use of meranti. This, in turn, has given Malaysia valuable resources to help enforce their wildlife protection laws and sustainably manage their forests. So the next time you stop in a large bigbox retail store to purchase some meranti plywood, know a baby orangutan somewhere is saying thank you.


Q & A Guide

Illegal Logging

Some illegal logging occurs both domestically and internationally. This is an unfortunate reality, but so are the many misconceptions and myths about illegal logging.  

Is the timber trade a main cause of deforestation and illegal logging?

A: no, the need for food and shelter has led many to clear or burn forests to plant crops, provide wood fuel or build housing. The Economist recently noted, “Illegal logging is not the cause of all deforestation. Some trees are cut down to make way for plantations or ranching or to provide farmland or firewood for the poor.”1, one of the most popular environmental science sites on the web, states that 60 to 70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon results from cattle ranches while the rest mostly results from small-scale subsistence agriculture.2

Do imported wood products enter the U.S. from illegally logged sources?

A: A collaborative report by Seneca Creek Associates and Wood Resources international states, “Most illegally produced timber is used domestically [in foreign country where harvest occurred] and does not enter international trade.” The report further found that, “The suspicious volume of roundwood that enters international trade represents on the order of just 1 percent of global production for both softwood and hardwood.”3

How do we know that your products are legal?

A: Imported woods are accompanied by the necessary permits, documents, and paperwork that allow them to be traded legally and sustainably under international and national laws and regulations. This trade has been approved by government officials from both the country of export and the country of import.

Does boycotting products from certain countries help combat illegal logging?

A: No, bans and boycotts could actually exacerbate the problem because this approach removes any financial incentive to grow and sustainably manage the forest, resulting only in destructive land-conservation to agriculture and other uses. 

A publication by the U.N. Environment Program, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and World Wide Fund for Nature agrees, “Blanket boycotts of tropical timber are likely to favor forest clearance for low-grade shifting cultivation, because they remove economic incentives to keep even modified forests.”4

1  “Special Report: Down in the woods – The logging trade,”  The Economist, March 25, 2006.
2  “Why is the Brazilian Amazon being Destroyed?”  (link at
3  “’Illegal’ Logging andGlobal Wood Markets: The Competitive Impacts on the U.S. Wood Products Industry,” Seneca Creek Associates, LLC, November, 2004.
4  “Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living,”  International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources/ United Nations Environment Program/World Wide Fund for Nature, Gland, Switzerland, 1991.

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