Pharos cuts through endangered wood confusion

Tom Lent | August 26, 2010 | Newsletter

Use of biobased materials whether from agricultural plants or from trees is appealing in green building due to their renewable nature. However, overharvesting, plantation farming, chemical use and other problems threaten many species of trees with extinction as well as threatening entire forest habitats and the animals and humans that depend upon them.

In order to help green building professionals avoid inadvertently using endangered species in green building projects, the Pharos team has just added a section to the Pharos Chemical and Material Library (CML) that deals specifically with trees and other biobased materials. The CML now includes over 800 entries for tree species or groups of species with reference to any applicable warnings of threats to their survival or their habitats. Species warnings indicate the Pharos system's prioritization of concern based upon the degree of the threat to the species. One of the most widely accepted criteria sets for rating the threat to endangered species is the Red List Categories and Criteria prepared by the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). Pharos structures its prioritization of the relative significance of threats based upon the IUCN categories.

Warnings are categorized using a colored-flag system, similar to the one used in the CML for chemical warnings:

  • Purple — Extinct (EX) or Critically Endangered (CE) - species is extinct or facing an extremely high risk of extinction. Species that have been listed as extirpated in a US state (locally extinct) are also included in this category.
  • Red — Endangered (EN) - species is facing a facing a very high risk of extinction. Pharos also places most endangered species warnings from organizations that do not use the IUCN classification system into this category.
  • Orange — Vulnerable (VU) - species is facing a high risk of extinction. Frequently referred to as Threatened.
  • Yellow — Near Threatened (NT) - species is not yet considered vulnerable or endangered, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future. Species not yet evaluated (NE) are included here. Data deficient species (DD) are also included in this category where more information is required and the possibility that future research will show that threatened classification is appropriate.
  • Green — Least Concern (LC) - species is still widespread and abundant

The CML’s current 800+ entries are drawn from US federal and state threatened and endangered species listings, species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and species identified by the World Wildlife Fund and Rainforest Relief. This is a work in progress with more lists in the queue for addition over the coming months. Currently, the species warning listings are available as a stand-alone search in the CML. Shortly, we will be integrating them into the Pharos product listings as well.

Since most Pharos users will rarely know the actual scientific name — the genus and species — of the wood products you are considering, we are adding common trade names and synonyms for each species. If you can’t find the wood name that you are seeking, let us know by using the comment link in the upper right hand corner and we will do our best to link it to a species in the CML and let you know what we find out about its status.

We hope you find this new Pharos feature useful and we look forward to hearing your opinions as we further expand our analysis of biobased materials.