This year, as every year, we are undertaking a seven week journey to visit sawmills and their harvesting areas. We do this so we can monitor the legality and quality of the products, and also to discuss the season that has just ended and the one coming up. Here are a few impressions of our journey:
All our equipment is gathered together and we are ready to set off tomorrow, 21st September 2017.
Everything has been loaded and now we can set off. Our first destination is 2,818 km (1,750 miles) away and the journey there will take around four days, driving for around nine hours each day.
This looks like a sea or a large lake, but it is in fact the Rio Paraná river, which we will cross here.
We are crossing the boundary from Mato Grosso do Sul into the state of Mato Grosso. From here it is a good 1,000 km (620 miles) to the tropical northern part of the same state.
Sunset in Mato Grosso and it’s time to find our next hotel, so we don’t have to drive during the night.
The endless distances in Mato Grosso seem to go on forever.
As you can see from the vegetation, we are entering the tropical part of Mato Grosso.
Uwe and Alan having their evening meal.
The first stop at a sawmill in the state of Rondônia. Trying out the mangos.
After initial discussions we are starting our monitoring in accordance with the EUTR by visiting the log yard.
A log displaying the correct labelling of the chain of custody (cadeia de custódia).
Close-up of a log label.
Pre-planed Ipê sawn timber that is now being planed to its final dimensions. Planing twice achieves a significantly cleaner surface, and above all avoids the burn marks that can occur if boards get caught in the planing machine.
Cleanly packaged Ipê decking boards.
This method of bundling prevents the straps from tearing when the packets are loaded in and out of the containers, as the steel band does not touch the floor.
At a different sawmill we see Angelim Vermelho sawn timber cut into thicker dimensions for the Dutch hydraulic timber market.
A bridge girder made from Angelim Vermelho.
Alan and Uwe enjoy a cold beer, which is particularly refreshing in the humid tropical temperatures.
We journey on, and have to take one of the typical local ferries to cross yet another river.
We have just set off towards the other side of the river.
Although it is only eight o’clock in the morning, the sun is already very strong.
Continuing on our journey, we cross a number of crystal clear rivers in the Amazon basin.
Most roads in the Amazon area are only dirt tracks, and smaller rivers are crossed on the simple wooden bridges that are common here.
We take a breather before setting off again for hundreds of miles along this dirt track through the Amazon region.
The entire construction of the wooden bridge that we have just crossed can be admired from here. Driving on dirt tracks is incredibly dusty during the dry season. Every so often we have to wash the dust from our faces and arms.
We pass a variety of forest management projects along the route.
We are now travelling through a reservation for indigenous people. This is an area protected for the indigenous people in which no activities at all can be undertaken by outsiders. The only thing we are allowed to do is drive through it.
The small rivers in the Amazon region never fail to fascinate us.
Every so often we meet another car. We are actually driving on the wrong side of the road, but the dirt track was more even on this side and we could put our foot down a bit more.
Another breather. I am always glad to use these stops to take in the natural world around me.
We have just passed the eighth parallel south on the notorious Trans-Amazonian Highway.
As you can clearly see, the water level in the rivers is very low during the dry season.
We reach the first settlement since crossing the river with the ‘ferry’. As you can see, it is a very dusty place.
Brazil has a good network of filling stations and our tank is still half full, but as we don’t know when we will next have an opportunity to fill up in this isolated area, we top up the tank as a precaution.
Our hotel is not far from the filling station. It is actually one of the best accommodation options in the area.
The dust on this route is so fine that it even gets into the luggage area. The whole of our luggage is covered in a fine layer of dust.
Brazilians are very fond of animals! I would love this little puppy, but I am not sure that he would be allowed to travel with us, or whether he would even want to!
Onwards along one of the seemingly never-ending roads here.
As you can see, the car is already covered in dust again.
The road is being ‘renovated’ here.
We begin today at a forest project that we are visiting in accordance with the EUTR recording of supplier visits, so that we can trace the supply chain backwards.
Within the forest project we are travelling onwards in a Can-Am Commander Quad. It is ideal for our monitoring work as it can travel through places that are beyond the limits of our Toyota Hilux.
We arrive at an ‘esplanade’, a log collecting area.
Alan checks a random selection of log labels against the forest map.
Close-up view of a log label.
The following day it’s on to another forest project. As it rained yesterday, there are a number of puddles on the road.
…and even small lakes.
It isn’t officially the rainy season yet, but the weather has been crazy all round the world this year, and it has rained much more often during the dry season. This makes driving more difficult, obviously.
The rainwater makes the ground softer and it is becoming increasingly muddy. Luckily we have invested in an off-road vehicle this year.
We have arrived at the forest project and are specifically looking for individual trees that are not allowed to be felled. Here, we are comparing the designation with the forest map. This tree is a ‘porta-semente’, i.e. a seed/fruit bearing tree.
Many thanks to the forestry team, who have convinced us of their competence.
Correctly recorded logs are being taken to the sawmill.
The fazenda where the forestry project is located is also partly given over to livestock farming.
Travelling onwards, we have come to another river that must be crossed by ferry. After waiting for one and a half hours, the ferry finally arrives.
The sunset during the crossing is simply magnificent. The way the sun is reflected on the water is beautiful.
The next morning we see how dirty our car really is.
We travel on towards Lábrea, where the Trans-Amazon Highway begins.
Sadly, we see burning rainforests over and over again. Many people don’t realise that this ‘cleansing of unproductive land’ is done to create cattle ranches and soya farms. Despite this, people in Europe believe that the timber industry is responsible, yet why would a timber company cut off the hand that feeds it? The blame is just laid at the door of the timber industry because they have no lobby group. Everyone wants to have meat in their supermarket and eat burgers at a fast food chain, but who needs wood? After all, it can be replaced with ‘low-maintenance plastic’. This is what is harming the environment, not sustainably produced tropical hardwood from well managed forest projects. This is part of our mission.
Travelling on, we once again have to cross a river using one of the typical ferries in this region. As the water level of the river is very low during the dry season, a traffic lane has been built into the river so that vehicles can reach the ferry.
Although this looks like an island, it is in fact a promontory of Bolivia. In the background is our destination, the Brazilian land on the opposite side of the river.
We pass another forest management project, which we will be visiting later.
Ipê logs with a proper chain of custody.
A stock of Ipê at the log yard.
Cumaru Amarelo logs on the opposite side. We inspect the chain of custody labelling here, too, and make comparisons with the log records on a random basis.
Cumaru Amarelo stocks at the log yard.
The logs that come from the forest management project are unloaded here and distributed around the log yard according to species.
Garapa logs, which are very common in this area.
Now it’s time to go back and we have to cross the Rio Madeira once again. On the right of the picture you can see the Bolivian promontory again.
As we journey onwards, we pass an area that is completely underwater during the rainy season. The water-rich ground makes it lovely and green during the dry season.
The sun is already setting and it is time to continue our journey so that we don’t have to arrive at our hotel in the dark.
The dirt roads are passable during the dry season, but the amount of fine dust stirred up by preceding vehicles often limits visibility so much that it is like driving in fog.
On today’s journey we pass the boundary of a forested area that has been placed under protection. The writing on the sign says ‘Hunting, fishing, trespassing, deforestation, burning, extracting (gathering) of wood and associated products from the forest are FORBIDDEN – entry only with permit’. Despite the widely held opinion that the Amazon rainforest in Brazil is simply being deforested, we often see these preserved forested areas on our journey. There are other things going on! It’s just that you need to be there to see for yourself rather than believing all the accusations in the press – after all, their motto is ‘only bad news makes good news’.
If you look at the Amazon basin, or the journey we have made, on an orohydrographic map*, you can see an incredibly dense network of rivers that is similar to the network of blood vessels in our bodies. We cross the smaller rivers on primitive wooden bridges and the bigger ones on the typical local ferries. Here, we have come to another such river (the Rio Madeirinha) and are waiting for the ferry.
*Note: Orohydrographic maps are special editions of topographical maps. They show only the river system (generally in blue) and contour lines (in brown), omitting other topographical features such as roads, buildings or vegetation. (Source: Wikipedia)
We have arrived in Guatá and are visiting the log yard in a sawmill. We are again randomly comparing log labels with the log records.
The logs are sorted according to species here, too.
A batch of Angelim Pedra sawn timber destined for the Dutch market.
Unique markings on the logs.
Alan in front of some Ipê logs. It is easy to see the olive brown colour of the heartwood.
We are entering a properly fenced fazenda to visit an ‘Área de Manejo Florestal Sustentável’ (sustainably managed forest area) belonging to one of our sawmill partners.
To reach this year’s harvesting area we have to drive along some 46 km (28 miles) of simple (and muddy) dirt tracks. These dirt tracks should cause as little damage as possible to their surroundings, which is why the vegetation alongside them is very thick and shade-giving. However, this also means that the sun has little opportunity to dry out the ‘puddles’, which are up to 25 metres long on this section.
We have arrived at the forest management project. Regulations stipulate that the timber harvesting company must erect and maintain relevant information boards and warning signs.
The ‘Plano de Manejo Florestal Sustentável’ begins here, as can be seen on the information board.
Our way is frequently blocked by trees or large branches that have fallen down naturally, (e.g. through wind and storms). The only thing to do is clear the route with a machete and chain saw.
We have cleared the obstruction sufficiently to continue with our journey.
We pass another ‘Plano de Manejo Florestal Sustentável’ (sustainable forest management project).
The workers who are employed in timber harvesting in the forest management project eat and sleep in this simple and temporary housing. The working schedule lasts for 25 days, and then the workers have six days off, during which time they go home to their families. The equipment needed for the timber harvest is also housed in these huts, including the forest maps.
Another small tree has been blown down by the wind and is blocking our way. It’s all hands on deck again to cut the trunk and branches into pieces and clear them to the side.
A mighty Angelim Vermelho tree that had been designated for harvesting. However, a ‘test cut’ in the trunk established that it was hollow inside and so it was left standing. This allows the trees to maintain their ecological role of providing food and shelter for the animal world.
The label ‘Árvore Abater’ indicates that this Angelim Vermelho tree was designated for felling.
On the right hand side you can see the label fixed to the trunk.
Checking the ‘cadeia de custodia’ (chain of custody) of an Angelim Vermelho log on an ‘esplanade’ (log collecting area).
– Faixa (section) no. 42
– Seção (part of log) A (designates the butt end)
– Árvore (tree) no. 53
These figures must correspond with the forest map, on which every tree is depicted, and the log records, on which all felled trees are listed. A label with the same information must be placed on the tree stump, which can be located using the geographical data on the forest map. The diameter and shape of the stump and the log must, of course, be identical.
Here you can see the above-mentioned butt end with its label.
We use the GPS in our car to compare the geographical data of our location with the data on the forest map. We are looking for the stump that matches the log on the previous photograph.
The stump is close to the esplanade. The label can be seen towards the middle on the high buttress. All the details match, including the diameter and stump type.
As we have already come to another nearby esplanade anyway, we decide to have a look at the logs here.
The tropical heat, which has reached 36º, along with humidity of over 80% and thousands of flying insects, make things very difficult and we get tired very quickly. I have great respect for the forest workers, and I know few other working environments that are so strenuous and dangerous at the same time. The people here work a 12 hour day from sunrise (6 o’clock in the morning) to sunset (six o’clock in the evening) for 25 days non-stop. Wearing the mandatory personal protective gear is also made more difficult by the climatic conditions. Just standing around makes people sweat constantly as if they were in a sauna. Drinking plenty of fluids is not just recommended, but essential to life.
Another clearly legible log label on a tree approved for felling.
As a comparison with the previous photo, this is a log label on a protected tree, which must not be felled under any circumstances (‘priobido o corte’).
A view into the canopy of an Angelim Vermelho tree with an average trunk diameter.
Back in the camp, we take another look at the forest map with its clearly marked ‘faixas’ (strip sections). It is also easy to see the rivers, which are marked with blue lines. No trees can be felled for 50 metres to the left and right of a river, as rivers provide water and food to the animal world and the vegetation should be left as untouched as possible in this area.
We have deliberately photographed the map’s key here. It shows:
– Abate (trees designated for cutting/felling)
– Porta Semente (protected seed/fruit-bearing trees)
– Proibida (absolute ban on felling)
– Rara (rarely occurring tree species that must not be felled)
– Remanescente (young trees that are still growing and must not be felled)
– Rio (river)
– Parcela_permanente (permanently protected sections)
– APP area proteção permanente (permanently protected areas, e.g. along a river)
– Estrada_secundaria 4 m (4 metre secondary roads)
– Estrada_primaria 6 m (6 metre main roads)
– Esplanade 20 x 25 m (20 x 25 metre log collecting area)
– Picadas (skidder routes for removing the felled logs)
As you can see, everything is stated and marked as clearly as possible.
It is now late afternoon and we are on our way back from the forest management project. The late afternoon sunlight is perfectly suited for photographing the tropical rainforest, which here is sustainably utilised via a ‘projeto’ (project) but remains intact. A maximum of 26 solid cubic metres of wood can be taken per hectare, and after that the area must be left untouched for 25 years. The landowner is responsible for any encroachments and has to pay very high fines for transgressions. A custodial sentence may be given for severe transgressions.
Another view into the tree canopy along our forest track. The timber harvest has finished here and the forest area will recover naturally over the next 25 years.
A view of our journey through the tropical rainforest. The roads here are purely dirt tracks with no gravel, tarmac or concrete, so that as little damage as possible is caused to the natural environment.
A lorry carrying logs has become stuck in the mud here. Unfortunately we cannot get past on the left, as the passing space is too narrow. There is also the danger of skidding off to the left into a small river or even overturning. We just have to wait until a loader can pull the lorry out of the mire. This considerably delays our return journey and it will soon be dark, as the sun sets in half an hour.
By spinning its wheels, the lorry has slipped too far to the left and is in danger of sliding into the river. Great care is needed to pull it out. On this picture you can also clearly see that the rivers in forest projects are bridged in a natural way with logs. The logs, which lie in the water, are hollow inside and so serve to channel the water. When the work in the forest is finished the road is filled in again and the logs across the river, which are still acting as a bridge, are dismantled to allow the river to flow naturally again during the rainy season. This also prevents outsiders from entering.
The following day we drive along the 416 km (258 mile) highway from Machadinho to Colniza, which takes us straight through the rainforest. It is just a dirt track with the simplest wooden bridges, which are often in such a poor condition that we have to cross them with the greatest of care to avoid slipping into one of the holes and getting stuck. There are only two small settlements along the whole stretch of road, and these are far away. This road is only rarely used, but the nearest tarmac road would take us 700 km (435 miles) to the south, from where we would have to cross from west to east and then travel another 700 km (435 miles) to the north. By coming this way we have saved two days and a diversion of 1,400 km (870 miles).
From this height we have a wonderful view over the tropical rainforest. It is so dense that we can’t see our road.
Travelling on, we cross the beautiful and clean water of the Rio Roosevelt.
A panorama shot from the Rio Roosevelt showing the simple ferry that will carry us across to the other side in a few minutes. Luckily there is no settlement here and we can marvel at huge stretches of untouched nature.
We have just arrived at the other side and can continue our journey.
A beautiful view over the tropical rainforest and the road ahead of us.
The road leads us through hills and valleys determined by nature.
Today is 13th October and it is pouring with rain this afternoon. This is the first sign that the rainy season will be setting in soon, and it is really too early for Mato Grosso.
This morning we are ready to set off on our journey again and are trying to remove some of the awful dust from our luggage area. Our efforts will be in vain as long as we are driving along dirt tracks, but perhaps it will help a little.
Today, to our horror, we travel for 150 km (93 miles) with burned rainforest to the left and right of our road. It has had to make way for cattle rearing pasture. How we would have loved to see a Projeto de Manejo Florestal Sustentável (sustainable forest management project) here instead. While a forest project is clearly an intrusion in the primary forest, sustainable use allows the forest to maintain its economic value and survive as an ecosystem rather than being burnt down for pasture or soya plantations as has happened here.
It is easy to see the burnt out rainforest in the foreground, and the first cattle are already grazing. It is ridiculous that so few people understand the true causes of the deforestation. There is a general belief that the timber industry is responsible for the destruction of the rainforests, but this is clearly not the case. However, we have no lobby group while beef and soya are used to feed the world’s population. It is always hard work trying to explain the true circumstances of rainforest destruction.
Where rainforest once stood, it has been burnt down and cattle now graze. A boycott on tropical timber, which environmental groups once called for with the aim of preserving the rainforests, has not achieved this at all. In fact, the opposite has happened. With the decline in demand for tropical wood, the local population have seen no more economic value in their forests and have simply burned them down to free up the land for agro-economic uses, as has happened here. In order to truly protect the forests, we need to use them in sustainable ways and not boycott tropical wood as a matter of principle. We just need to make sure, when we buy wood products, that they are of legal origin, and that is what we do when we visit not only the sawmills that supply us, but also their harvesting areas, the Projeto de Manejo Florestal Sustentável (sustainable forest management projects). This is the only way we can be sure of the legal provenance of the wood under the terms of the EUTR.
Today is Sunday and a swim in the hotel swimming pool is very welcome in the tropical heat and humid conditions.
An inviting hotel in a small settlement nestled in the middle of the rainforest. Places like this are lovely to stay in!
Uwe at the top of a beautiful waterfall not far from our hotel.
The ‘Cachoeira das Adorinhas’ is a wonderful natural spectacle.
The two smaller ‘twin waterfalls’ to the right of the main ‘Cachoeira das Adorinhas’.
From here the further course of the Rio Aripuanã can be seen as it winds through the tropical rainforest.
Uwe at the ‘Cachoeira das Adorinhas’.
Milena at the ‘Cachoeira das Adorinhas’.
One more photo of Uwe and Milena at the ‘Cachoeira das Adorinhas’ before we continue on our journey.
At our next sawmill visit, we inspect Marupa sawn timber. This species is often used instead of Ajous, an African species, as it is equally bright, light and soft. It is principally used for mouldings of all kinds, and especially sauna laths.
Marupa parcels waiting to be bundled. The end grain will be sprayed for protection, and the colour will also serve as a marker in the customer’s warehouse.
The next morning we visit another sawmill in the area and examine the planing quality of Ipê decking boards.
Ipê decking boards with no timber or planing defects.
Bundles of Ipê decking boards packed up for export in the correct way.
Unplaned Angelim Vermelho posts destined for the Netherlands.
Angelim Vermelho posts with uniformly pointed head ends for Dutch hydraulic construction.
Angelim Vermelho posts fresh from the band saw. In contrast with the strong dark red-brown colour of the timber in the previous photos, this timber has not yet darkened in the air and light.
Angelim Vermelho sawn timber 20×100 mm for Dutch hydraulic construction.
Travelling on, we miss the two o’clock ferry by eight minutes and now have to wait for over two hours in temperatures approaching 38ºC until it returns. We are surrounded by buzzing mosquitoes and there is nothing to do but take a short nap to pass the time until we set off along the exhausting and bumpy earth tracks again.
Five o’clock! The ferry has returned from its latest crossing and we will be able to set off soon. Everything is more punctual here than the German railways! Good for them, especially in such an isolated place.
Alan and Uwe soak up the last of the afternoon sunshine on the ferry. It will be dark in around 45 minutes.
The river bank is lined with dense rainforest.
The way the trees are reflected in the water is beautiful.
After just under an hour’s crossing, the other river bank is finally in sight.
For a while we travel along the dirt track, but the journey of around 2,000 km (1,240 miles) has taken its toll and the steering wheel is starting to wobble at anything over 80 km (50 miles) per hour. We get the wheels rebalanced and the track adjusted.
The dried earth sticks to everything and it is hard to believe that the car is only one and a half months old.
The dried mud must also be contributing to the imbalance in the wheels.
Although the rims were cleaned, the wheels still need to be rebalanced.
A typical road sign giving distances in kilometres in the tropical north of Brazil.
At the end of the dry season the river bed has largely dried up, revealing this beautiful clean sandbank.
We continue along the dusty earth tracks.
We are looking at a concession in a state forest. These concessions are awarded at a federal level and their large size, along with frequent monitoring by high-level government bodies, allows us to assume that they are legally managed. The financial losses that the operator would have to bear if any illegal activities were uncovered would be too great. An infringement would result in the loss of the concession accompanied by high fines, the total loss of the investment or even prison.
After driving through the entrance we still have around 90 km (56 miles) of forest tracks to follow before we reach the first main esplanade, or log collecting area. The project is also managed here.
After driving for more than two hours we have arrived at the large esplanade and are looking at the local facilities, including office buildings, sleeping accommodation for the forest workers and storage areas for provisions and equipment etc.
The work being carried out in the first section of the concession is monitored and managed from this building.
A view inside the building. It looks quite basic to a European, but is actually quite remarkable out here so far from civilisation. The forest maps can be seen on the wall, with all trees charted.
Next to the forest map, the requisite certificates and licences are pinned to the wall, including details of timber species and quantities.
We like to see things for ourselves, so we are making random checks in the areas where the forestry operations are taking place. Here, Alan is deep in the forest on his way to look at a tree stump.
It is easy to see on this photo how quickly the eco-system is recovering from the timber harvest. Cutting down old trees lets more light in and allows new life, such as these little tree shoots, to take hold. In this way, the tree population is rejuvenated.
We are now visiting another project and can ascertain that the logs are being identified in an orderly way here, too.
Every log is being recorded properly, i.e. with details on the project it originates from, the unit area, the log number and the section.
We are now driving north along the Trans-Amazonian Highway to a destination some 90 km (56 miles) away. It rained yesterday evening, turning the dusty road into a muddy track.
A lorry has become stuck in the slippery mud on a rise in the road, and a second lorry has also come to grief when trying to get past. In a short time, a traffic jam of around 200-300 lorries has formed, and the only way past is with an off-road vehicle.
We have negotiated our way past the lorries, but the section of road ahead of us has been even more affected by the rain and traffic, and the layer of mud is getting deeper.
This afternoon we are visiting another forest project. It is now raining every day, and we have to drive along extremely muddy sections of track.
The thick vegetation becomes more primordial as we travel further into the forest. On this photo we are driving along a steep section, but in contrast to yesterday, the surface has been dried out a little by the morning sun. These are the best conditions for off-road driving, as we don’t have to contend with the dust or drive for hours through mud.
The GPS can’t identify any (official) roads here.
We have arrived at the forest project and are once again comparing stump labels with the forest map and the log records.
Alan and Uwe examining the log labels.
The log label showing the unit area, the log number and the log section matches the details on the stump label and the forest map, as well as the log records.
Uwe checking the log label on a Massaranduba log. Alan is standing behind him on the tree stump, noting the details so that they can be checked against the system records later.
We have made a number of checks and are now heading back.
The next morning we visit the log yard in a sawmill. Uwe is standing in front of massive Garapa logs, some of which display interesting log formation. They would make lovely rustic tables…
Sawn timber stacked up to pre-dry in the air. Special separators with a small contact area have been used, keeping the timber vertically stacked with a slight gap between each board. The wood is covered to protect the end grain and the top layer from direct sunlight, keeping the timber from drying out too quickly and avoiding check formation.
Ipê decking boards with very smoothly planed surfaces. We will definitely select wood products from this sawmill for our discerning customers.
Uwe can’t resist running his hand along these super-smooth Ipê decking boards to test their surface feel.
More Ipê decking boards of exceptional quality. They have been planed just as smoothly as the previous ones.
The recently-planed Ipê decking boards are checked once again for visual quality before being bundled.
This photo of a finished stack of Ipê decking boards also clearly demonstrates their high quality.
This photo clearly shows how the individual layers in the bundle are kept separate and tied together with synthetic strapping tape. For stockholding timber retailers, this has the advantage that when the upper strapping tape is cut, the layers underneath remain bundled together neatly rather than all the boards lying loose on the pallet. For high rack storage in particular, this reduces the risk of individual boards falling down if the bundle starts to wobble and cause individual layers in the bundle to move. This avoids dangerous accidents and the product also makes a neat and sales-boosting impression.
All the head ends are carefully coated with paraffin to protect the end grain. There are no paraffin splashes on the planed surface of the wood.
All these lorries heading north along the Trans-Amazonian Highway are laden with soya to be shipped out from Santarém. We firmly believe that soya is the main cause of the extensive decline of the tropical rainforests.
In the area around Sinop, which is well known as a source of good Itaúba, we are inspecting the quality of some decking boards. Here, too, the packaging and bundling make a good impression on us.
In the log yard at the same sawmill we look at the Itaúba logs and make some random checks, comparing a few log labels with the records in the office.
We pass this tree as we travel onwards. It stands in private grounds and has such magnificent red blossom.