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An Economic Solution To An Environmental Concern

Tropical American Tree Farms adopted an innovative free-market solution to the problem of tropical deforestation by planting and growing for harvest, for profit, more than 50 species of beautiful and precious tropical hardwoods.

San José, Costa Rica, June 26, 2002 - Nearly everyone has read about the alarming rate of destruction of the world's tropical rainforests and its impact on our environment. Research shows that nearly 50 million acres of rainforest are being leveled each year and more than 19 million tropical trees are being felled every day. With such daunting statistics, many people feel helpless to turn back this trend. One couple, Steve and Sherry Brunner, however, are actively doing something about it.
The Brunners founded Tropical American Tree Farms in 1991 and are pursing an innovative free-market solution to the problem of tropical deforestation by planting and growing for harvest, for profit, more than 50 species of beautiful and precious tropical hardwoods - species such as mahogany, teak, Brazilian cherry, ipe, cocobolo, Santa Maria, peroba rosa, goncalo alves, and many lesser known species. Several of the species they are growing are already on endangered lists, and some are nearing extinction.
In just 10 years, with the help of their team of professional tropical foresters, nurserymen and technicians, and the support of more than one thousand tree owners, the Brunners have converted nine large cattle ranches, totaling more than 10,000 acres, in Costa Rica into tropical hardwood tree farms, and have planted nearly 1.5 million tropical hardwood trees for future harvest, for profit. Their work is providing jobs for nearly 300 Costa Rican men and women.
Land that until a generation ago was covered with tropical rainforest, before the former owners cleared it to graze cattle, is once again covered with tropical trees. Only this time the trees are carefully chosen tropical hardwood species, selected for their beautiful hardwoods, excellent growth potential, and high value, all hand-planted in neat rows, and pruned, cared for, and groomed for later harvest.
The Brunners believe that profit and the environment can thrive in harmony.
"We are planting only species which produce high value hardwoods and that our foresters are sure will flourish in our plantation," observed Steve. "To give you an idea of the value of tropical hardwoods and why loggers are pushing ever deeper into the rainforests to get them, teak, the principal species we are planting, sells for more than three times the price of black walnut, probably the finest hardwood grown in North America. Individual teak trees sometimes bring more than $25,000."
By planting and growing tropical hardwood trees for harvest and producing precious tropical hardwoods that don't have to be taken from the natural rainforest, the Brunners and their tree owners are helping to reduce the pressure on the world's remaining rainforests. The hardwood trees that they and their tree owners are growing also help improve our air, by producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide, fixing or sequestering the carbon into beautiful hardwoods that will be made into furniture and other high-value products that will keep the carbon fixed for years, and improve our water and protect the soil by slowing runoff and preventing erosion.
In addition to the 3,700 acres of their farms where their tropical hardwood trees are growing, the Brunners have set aside 6,200 acres, more than 60% of the area of their farms, in permanent conservation - nearly 4,000 acres of existing tropical rainforest on their farms, and another 2,200 acres of previously deforested hillsides and stream corridors that they are allowing to regenerate into permanent forest. They have also planted tens of thousands of fruiting, flowering and shelter trees throughout their farms to encourage the return of the birds and animals which once inhabited the area before it was cleared for cattle.
The habitats they are protecting are home to one of the few remaining populations of the endangered and majestic scarlet macaw, and to black guans and great curassows, huge deep-forest birds that stand 36 inches tall and have been hunted nearly out of existence.
Their rainforests are also home to the awe-inspiring howler or Congo monkeys, as well as white-faced or capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, and the tiny endangered squirrel monkey. Three types of cats also live in these precious forests - the beautiful ocelot, the smaller and more rare margay, and the beautiful and elusive jaguarundi. They are also home to the cat-like jet black tyra, and tiny rainforest or brocket deer, about the size of a large dog. Both white-lipped and collared peccaries live in the forest, as well as kinkajou and the smaller, more unusual, olingo, and two kinds of anteaters.
To involve their neighbors in protecting the rainforest and planting trees, each year the Brunners give hundreds of little trees to all of the Costa Rican school children in the schools near their farms to take home and plant, and explain to them the importance of protecting the rainforest and the value in planting trees.
During their last planting season Tropical American Tree Farms gave trees to more than 550 students in ten different schools. "It is our hope that the children and their families all will learn the importance of preserving the rainforests and that there is value in planting hardwood trees for later harvest," said Sherry.
The Brunners received the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers Sequoia Award for their leadership in environmental innovation. And for their free-enterprise solution to tropical deforestation, the Brunners were awarded the National Arbor Day Foundation's Good Steward Award.
Steve explained, "It is our hope that by planting and growing hundreds of thousands of precious tropical hardwood trees and producing beautiful tropical hardwoods that don't have to be taken from the rainforests, and by protecting and extending thousands of acres of tropical rainforest and other natural habitat on the farms, we and our tree owners are doing something beneficial for the world."

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