A University of Vermont student has sparked the City Council to look at an ordinance that would protect tropical rainforests.
Gates Gooding, a 20-year-old junior who grew up in Steamboat Springs, is asking the city to buy only rainforest wood that is certified as being harvested in a sustainable manner. If the City Council passes the ordinance at tonight's council meeting, Gooding said it would be the first such law in Colorado.
City Manager Wendy DuBord said the ordinance should have close to no impact on the city's budget. The ordinance would require all wood the city purchases from temperate or tropical rainforests to have a third party agency certify it was harvested in an environmentally, economically and socially responsible manner.
"I really don't think it would be too difficult to enforce. It is really a stated policy," DuBord said.
Gooding first contacted the city in August and asked the council to consider an ordinance.
When Gooding volunteered for Rainforest Relief, he learned about the ordinance and decided he wanted to ask the city where he grew up to enact one.
New York City, Santa Monica, Calif., San Francisco, Hartford County, Md., Tennessee and Arizona have similar ordinances. But Gooding said he knows of no communities in Colorado that have passed similar laws.
"When I first came up with the idea, people thought I didn't have much of a chance," he said. "I really have been pleasantly surprised with how responsive the city of Steamboat has been, allowing me to actively partake in city government."
To get the process started, Gooding gave the city a skeleton document of an ordinance and examples of other communities that had enacted one.
Because rainforest wood can be more durable than other varieties, Gooding said, it is often used for outdoor structures, such as boardwalks and benches.
DuBord said she does not know of any rainforest wood the city has used in the past or of any it has planned to buy. The ordinance is more of a philosophical statement and intended to raise awareness among buyers and purchasers in the public and private sector, she said.
The Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department, which has the greatest likelihood of using rainforest lumber, told DuBord that they are now replacing its wood products with plastic lumber. Although more expensive, the plastic lumber lasts longer and cuts down on maintenance costs, making it cheaper to own over time.
The city typically uses domestic wood and, whenever possible, recycled wood. DuBord pointed to Centennial Hall, where the city used recycled oak, recycled hickory for the floors and recycled material for the ceiling tiles.
Rosewood, African mahogany, American mahogany, balsa and teak are examples of rainforest harvested wood the city most likely would use. In his letter to council, Gooding did note that certified rainforest wood in tropical areas is 15 percent more expensive than noncertified wood and in temperate areas about 5 percent more expensive.
"These woods are more expensive, but the statement made by supporting sustainable logging enterprises and doing our part to protect the world's rainforests is infinitely more valuable," he wrote.