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Balsa Wooden’s Environmental Paradox | Exterior My Window

Balsa cover and trunk in opposition to the sky (picture from Wikimedia Commons)

1 March 2023

Whereas touring in Ecuador final month I noticed balsa bushes rising within the wild and realized that Ecuador provides 95% of the world’s industrial balsa wooden. The driving pressure behind these exports is an environmental paradox.

Balsa (Ochroma pyramidale) is a pioneer tree of tropical forest clearings, native to Central and South America. It’s so quick rising that it will probably develop 6-9 toes a yr and attain full peak of about 100 toes in solely 10-15 years. The bushes are short-lived, lasting solely 30-40 years.

Mature balsa tree in Colombia (picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Contained in the dwelling wooden the cells are giant, thin-walled and filled with water in order that the tree stands upright. When reduce and kiln dried the wooden may be very light-weight and durable.

Within the wild balsa bushes are broadly spaced at about one tree per acre (2-3/hectare) however to satisfy industrial demand balsa is grown in plantations containing 400 bushes/acre (1000/hectare). Plantation bushes are reduce at 6-10 years previous as a result of a lot of the wooden in older bushes — the core and outer layers — is commercially ineffective.

Balsa plantation (picture from each Forestry Journal UK and WR Carpenter PNG)

Europeans had been unaware of balsa till the Spanish arrived within the Americas within the 1500s and located native individuals utilizing rafts made from balsa logs. Balsa is the Spanish phrase for raft.

Pre-Colombian balsa rafts in Ecuador circa 1565 and two fashionable balsa rafts subsequent to a kayak (pictures from Wikimedia Commons)

Most of us are conversant in balsa wooden in toys and woodworking

Boy flies a balsa wooden airplane (picture by Liz Henry by way of Flickr Inventive Commons license)

This balsa wooden bridge received a physics contest in 2006. It weighs solely 60.95 grams (0.134 kilos) but it supported 14.51 kg (31.989 kilos).

Balsawood bridge contest at Whitmore Lake Excessive College, 2006 (picture from Wikimedia Commons)

However none of those makes use of are the driving pressure behind elevated Ecuadoran balsa exports.

Balsa wooden is a element in wind turbine blades. Based on GE which manufactures wind turbine blades at Castellon, “Staff make the blades from fiberglass material and balsa wooden. Then, the blade is roofed with an hermetic foil and the staff installs a community of tubes that pumps in and distributes the resin that may maintain it collectively.”

Wind turbine blades in transport, I-80 in Iowa (picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to now decade when the Chinese language authorities eradicated taxes for the choice power trade, it prompted a increase in wind turbine manufacturing. The vast majority of Ecuador’s balsa exports go to China.

Chuanshan Wind Turbine Area, 2015-04-11 02 (picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Plantations present 60% of Ecuador’s balsa wooden however the remaining 40% is coming from wild bushes within the rainforest. Utilizing satellite tv for pc pictures and on-the-ground followup Mongabay and International Forest Watch have documented deforestation in Ecuador, particularly east of the Andes within the Amazon watershed. Based on Mongabay:

The Pastaza River Basin is likely one of the areas most affected by the balsa trade. There, the Pastaza, Bobonaza, Curaray, Villano, Copataza and different rivers are used as logging entry routes, with satellite tv for pc imagery displaying their banks more and more pockmarked by deforestation. Sources inform Mongabay Latam that the logging has been so intense that balsa has been utterly faraway from some areas.

…[And now] loggers are beginning to harvest different timber species in areas which have been denuded of balsa.

“The identical loggers and merchants that one yr in the past arrived from [the cities of] Quevedo, Esmeraldas or Guayaquil are actually arriving to have a look at what else is there,” Páez mentioned.

“There may be an ongoing means of deforestation of useful tree species in Indigenous territories” with no monitoring by the authorities, she added.

Mongabay, August 2021: Indigenous Amazonian communities bear the burden of Ecuador’s balsa increase

The deforestation exhibits up as pink dots in International Forest Watch’s map under. Are these locations the place birders go? The eBird map of Ecuador hotspots at proper is pink the place birders reported extra then 500 species. There appears to be overlap southeast of Quito.

Screenshots of International Forest Watch map of Ecuador built-in deforestation alerts + eBird map of Ecuador hotspots

The environmental paradox of balsa wooden is that this: To create renewable power shortly, we’re reducing down the rainforest.

Learn extra on this article from Mongabay and this from World Rainforest Motion.

(picture and map credit are in every caption; click on on the captions to see the originals)

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