Puerto Rico Hardwoods

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Puerto Rico Hardwoods Inc. (PRH) is a Puerto Rican business enterprise that arose from the need to divert from the waste-stream wood refuse derived from scheduled cuttings by government and commercial entities alike.  As part of PRH’s business model, the trunks and sizeable branches of trees that need to be cut down, are taken to a repository for processing rather than being dumped as ‘waste’ in the islands sanitary landfills.

PRH maintains that sustainability must start with minimization of waste, and intelligent use of local resources rather than contributing to the devastation of forests in other countries. Additionally, in the context of global increases in deforestation, demonstrating long-term methods for economic utilization of previously disturbed secondary forests in Puerto Rico is valuable in helping reduce pressure on the economic exploitation of pristine rainforest areas globally. PRH is built around a renewable and recyclable resource. We recognize that to be one of the first of Puerto Rico’s hardwood distributors, sustainability isn’t just a marketing device; it is a practice that ensures the future of our lives and then our business.

PRH sits within a backdrop of thirty years of dedicated people participation in sustainable forestry.

PRH is located on the land known as Las Casas de la Selva, home to the Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry Project, in the southern mountains adjacent to the Carite State Forest, on the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

PRH was created and developed by Andrés Rúa and Thrity Vakil. As founders and former directors of the Agroforestry Development Advisory Council (CADA), Rúa and Vakil’s broader vision is to promote sustainable forestry on the Island, and to reduce the vegetative waste going to landfill by making it valuable.

They are both current Directors of Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry and Rainforest Enrichment Project in Patillas, Puerto Rico, and established 30 years ago by The Institute of Ecotechnics.

The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), promotes the salvaging of hardwoods and specifically endorses the initiative of PRH of diverting from the waste stream any commercially valuable hardwoods, including trees that are listed, but felled for specified and DNER authorized reasons.

An example follows: In July 2015, twenty-three 50-year old trees of the Puerto Rican Mahogany Hybrid, (Swietenia mahagoni x macrophylla), were felled by the Municipality of Arroyo, as expressly authorized by the DNER through permit.  It was necessary to remove these trees in order to preserve the structural integrity of a culturally and historically valuable site, and the roads and pavement surrounding the Arroyo Cemetery. The action was also authorized by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña.

Puerto Rico Hardwoods, Inc. has consulted extensively with the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, and local US Fish Wildlife Service officials in charge of ensuring compliance to CITES, the Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species as well as US based Dr. Ed Espinoza, Deputy Director of National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, who provided the positive DNA identification of these mahogany trees from samples sent to him. The DNER will furnish PRH with documentation to authenticate the work being done.  The wood from Mahogany trees is coveted worldwide, and logging of these trees everywhere else that they grow is restricted in order to prevent their extinction. This is not the case with mahogany in Puerto Rico. (Link to history of Mahogany in PR-coming soon)

These trees of the Arroyo Cemetery were to be ripped out by excavators, and destroyed before being dumped in a landfill. In a critical situation, PRH provided professional services of felling and removal of the trees in exchange for the wood. Towing and dump trucks were hired by PRH to deliver the trees to the Patillas location of the Tropic Ventures Project. A hugely wasteful scenario was diverted.

The PRH Team:

Thrity Jal Vakil
2000-2007: Volunteer with Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry Project.
2007-present: Director; Science Research director, management, logistics, finance, and hands-on aspects of tree selection, wood harvest, production, drying, marketing, and selling.
2015-present: President of PRH, rescue of wasted wood; milling and drying operations; sustainable hardwood supplier.

Andrés Rúa González
2005-present: Technical Director of Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry Project. All aspects of wood production: harvest, haul, mill, dry, design and create wood for sale, products.
2015 -to present: CEO of PRH. Chief Sawyer and Production Manager on municipal projects to salvage Mahogany and other valuable wood otherwise destined for landfill.

In August and September 2015, PRH employed architect and woodworker, Ricardo Valle Pérez, and apprentice, Alex Figueroa, who were trained by Andrés Rúa on chainsaw and sawmill safety and operating procedures. The two months saw over 16,000 board feet of Mahogany wood milled, including other salvaged valuable timber trees, (when tow trucks could be afforded), such as Guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), along with Saman (Samanea saman) and several Ucar (Bucida buceras) trees. This valuable milled wood is currently stored at the Tropic Ventures drying facility in Patillas. PRH also continues to selectively harvest Majó Azul (Hibiscus elatus), from plantations on the Tropic Ventures land. Tim Dehm spent three months and partook in all aspects of project life, and spent time woodworking, making small tables and stools. William Davidowski, joined the team of woodworkers as a volunteer, and has made some of the finest pieces of furniture of wood from the the tree species Mahoe.

The salvaged wood is being used to grow a skilled artisan workshop, to create fine wood products and furniture, as well as serve as an export source of revenue for the island.  This enterprise is concerned with employment in all areas from salvage and transportation, harvesting, milling, drying, and creation of value-added products, along with marketing and sales.  The ongoing study of forestry, awareness and training in sustainable management practices, tree-planting activities, and erosion control are perpetually linked into these activities. Most important is the abolition of vegetative waste being sent to land-fills.

As of February 2016, PRH makes fine wood products, and continues to salvage, mill, dry, and sell valuable Puerto Rican hardwoods.

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The Education & Research arm of Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry Project, In Patillas, was awarded a $21,000 grant by the DNER in PR to assess the wood and non-wood forest products on the island. Andrés Rúa created the nuestramadera.org website to document and archives the findings. Much information was gathered on wood, products, artisans, fairs, woodworkers, & sawmills.

2012: Several key discussions, conferences and gatherings, including several symposiums at the DNER, and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, along with a hands-on, in-the-field timber workshop at Tropic Ventures. (Link to images- coming soon) Dr. Frank H. Wadsworth, provided mentorship to the team, and continues to do so, to the present.

2013: CADA, Council for the Development of Agro-forestry, founded by Andrés Rúa and 3t Vakil, was born from these gatherings and discussions, and the open membership included individuals from universities and the private sector, members of Government agencies, and many other institutions, all brought together with an over-arching interest in the development of policies pertaining to the sustainable and intelligent use of Puerto Rico’s valuable & unique natural resources. Nuestra Madera became the owner of a collection of 120 different hardwoods of Puerto Rico, thanks to Prof. J.M Mutt.

2014: CADA began the discussion on the absurd situation of wood wastage going on in Puerto Rico, primarily carried out by, but not limited to, AEE and Government agencies. Council members agreed that an innovative business enterprise could make important contributions to the reduction, if not abolition of waste, and further, enhancement & creation of methods of recycling and re-use. PRH came into being in the cradle of these discussions. An enterprise to pursue the process of sustainable forestry in Puerto Rico from all angles.

What’s next?

  1. Open the discussion for partnerships to create success into the future for a sustainable forestry and hardwood enterprise.
  2. Change the way we look at vegetative ‘waste’ and value it as a resource instead. Encourage other ways to use the resource, for example – making paper.
  3. Add to the permits that DNER and Permit Management Office of PR recommend for the responsible use of unwanted wood.
  4. Use CADA as a task force and certifying body.
  5. Encourage and incentivize proper training for everybody related to wood & wood-working enterprises, including Government agencies.
  6. Create a bulletin to let interested parties (sawmills and artisans) know where tree felling activities are occurring, or scheduled, allowing easy access to removal.
  7. Establish a strategy for storm/hurricane-fallen trees to recover that wood for use, and not disposal.
  8. Increase the value of Puerto Rico’s natural resources.
  9. Management of private plantations for timber.
  10. Create a Fine Wood-Working School.
  11. Introduce forest management as part of school and university curricula.
  12.  Create forest and timber related careers.

Update 7th December, 2017.
After Hurricane Maria in September 2017, PRH has been working hard to secure funds to buy and rent heavy machinery and equipment, employ a team of tree trunk collectors, and mill valuable hardwoods.

Untold thousands of trees fell down, or broke, during Category 4 Hurricane Maria, blocking roads and damaging buildings and homes.  Puerto Rico does not have the facilities to process such a large quantity of tree trunks as lumber.  We can help to process  these tree trunks of valuable hardwoods that fell, utilizing Puerto Rico’s wealth of timber species.

The immediate challenge in Puerto Rico is to help in the relief of the impact of the hurricane, and create an industry from the resources that are currently lying on the ground rather than discard them as waste. The essence is to lower the cost of hurricane recovery, saving on equipment, transport and landfill costs, and to create an enterprise using this timber. This will result in the creation of jobs and demonstrate the value of this currently largely under utilized natural resource.

We believe, as a young enterprise, in the sustainable future of this island, which will require the intelligent use of our resources. PRH is committed to help in the economic recovery of Puerto Rico.  We are requesting the co-operation and advice everyone in this undertaking which will utilize part of the recent natural disaster as an opportunity, a literal wind fall, to showcase the value of our island’s forests and her hardwoods. If you wish to help in this effort: https://www.gofundme.com/puerto-rico-hardwoods . Thank you!