Mark D Stephens: Adventurer, writer, photographer, ambassador of the sonoran desert
Sawmills of the Yucatan Penninsula and Quintana Roo, Mexico
Looking for hardwod lumber in the Tropical Forests

Sawmill workers in Quintana Roo MexicoHere's something entirely different from the rest of my website, and the only peek into what I do during the day.

Some time ago, I was contacted by a firm in Mexico City who brokers lumber out of the Yucatan Peninsula. My dad asked, "You want to go down there for a week? See what they have."

I got the pleasure of flying into Cancun and talking with my fellow travelers that, "Yes, I'm going to Cancun for work." They wondered how they could get a job visiting exotic places for a living; the joke was on them. A chipper guy named Jorge, and an old fella named Jose met me at the airport where they put me in a car and drove us to Chetumal.

Here, I spent 4 days visiting several sawmills and I inspected logs and boards of Mahogany, chechen, katalox, granadillo, chakte kok and several other tropical woods.

Sawyer at an exotic hardwood lumber mill in MexicoSomething I've learned about the exotic wood business is that the woodworking community has little clue as to what goes into producing lumber from trees. The work is immense, and often highly unsafe. On top of it, the work takes place outside in extreme humidity and heat. They don't have luxuries like forklifts to lift bundles of wood at a time, either. We're talking about a lot of heavy, tedious, work-by-hand.

Some might think it odd to consider selling imported hardwood lumber as an act of conservation, but it is. Selling wood actually puts a value on the forest. You know what the alternative is? Total land clearing for the next Gringolandia, and Spring Break destination. If not that, then perhaps clear cutting to make space for ranch lands and an increasing population. The problem of shrinking forests is a global one, and the real source is not the cutting down of trees to make furniture. It's people - living space and open places to grow food for the same population.

Hardwood log in mexicoTree allocation for lumber is first selective - they don't clear cut tropical forests for lumber purposes. We do this in places like Washington to make pulp, but not lumber.

I know, everything is destructive. But when I go to these forests and sawmills and see these young boys and old men doing hard labor, I see that they need bonafide work. And as long as there are forests, they will have a job. If the forest is gone, where shall they go?

So, practices like sustainable foresty are an attempt to make sure that these guys have a job in 10 years.

Grading lumber at a sawmill in mexico, Exotic hardwood chechenIf we'd actually pay them what they are worth, then - then - we'll be making the world a far better place. But the American woodworking public demands low prices and high quality . . . what shall we do? Our North American lifestlyes essentially create and maintain the need for a working poor. This is me on a Tuesday night, looking through some photos of a sawmill visit in Mexico that took place over six months ago. I'm getting carried away. . .

I've had two margaritas (all the great writers drank), and I'm not at work.

This is different now.

Enjoy the photos, they're pretty neat.

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Mark D. Stephens: Adventurer, Writer, Photgrapher and Ambassador of the Sonoran Desert