What's New? New World Timbers!

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 26            July 29, 2004

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New World Timbers being loaded for transport

Attention all developers, contractors and resident home builders – there is a brand new source of exotic woods available in Belize, courtesy of New World Timbers Limited! This latest enterprise is a new industry – a sustainable logging practice, which was recently developed in Belize. Local San Pedro businessman Glen Schwendinger of Rendezvous Restaurant and Winery, and Joe Morrison, a Canadian business analyst, are the entrepreneurs behind this one-of-a-kind venture, extracting sunken timbers from Belizean rivers. The two residents of Ambergris Caye were introduced by a mutual friend in November 2003 and came up with the concept for New World Timbers (reportedly a big enterprise in Canada) "over drinks on the beach."

     Joe established the legitimacy of the plan and acts as the liaison between the partners and various environmental and governmental agencies in Belize. Essentially, the business currently entails extracting sunken timbers from the bottom of Belize’s New River and cutting them to specific lengths or dimensions for sale on the local and international markets. These timbers originated as felled trees from the Belize logging industry of the 1800s. This is evident in some logs, which retain the original axe marks used to cut them (pre-1860, when the commercial saw became widely used). As in most logging practices, the felled trees were left to float down stream to the sawmill. The longer the logs remained afloat in the river, the more waterlogged they became. As a result, some of the more dense hardwoods, such as mahogany, eventually sank to the bottom of the river to become part of the ecosystem.

     Nearly 200 years later, these logs are being used as the source of a new economy for local Belizeans. The New World Timbers extraction crew is a family-run enterprise comprised of Francisco "Pancho" Roberts of Orange Walk and six of his sons and cousins. According to Joe, "Pancho holds a PhD in survival," but Roberts calls himself a self-employed handyman who has "done just about anything," to make a living. To find the timbers, the crew first scours the New River lagoon with concrete-filled PVC pipe, their own "Belizean sonar," developed to locate the sunken logs. "Most of the time, we find logs but sometimes we find a crocodile-log," Roberts joked. Once located, a member of the crew free dives to mark the log (depths of up to 50 feet). A string is tied around the log and then attached to an empty water bottle that works as a floating "marker." On average, the crew tags 10 timbers per day and once they have identified at least 60 logs, Roberts calls in the "heavy equipment". Logs are then pulled to shore with "Pancho’s little 24-footer" boat, where a pay loader waits to haul the logs onto a truck. Joe and Glen explained that New World Timbers is the result of extensive planning. Reportedly, in the late 90s, the Government of Belize signed an international environmental treaty (CITES), which stopped the export of endangered trees. Subsequently, only logging from sustainable forests was allowed, which brought Belize’s logging industry to a standstill. Most logging companies could not, and are still unable to, comply with the environmental standards set by this treaty.Thorough research and a working relationship with Programme for Belize (an environmental "watchdog") have enabled the New World Timbers project managers to meet all of these requirements. Since their timbers are not "mass extracted," the costs involved in doing the job in an "environmentally-friendly" manner forces the company to ask a higher, but market acceptable, price for this lumber. "I believe New World Timbers is one of the only operations of its kind in Central America," commented Glen.

     New World Timbers are used architecturally as decorative support beams and frames, as well as for the manufacturing of fine furniture such as bars, tabletops, beds, sofas, and a number of other possibilities. New World Timbers customers include "some of the island’s best builders (Bob Campbell and Chris Barenfanger)," states Glen. "Our timbers are an exclusive, decorating material that will enhance even the humblest décor," Joe added. This exquisite lumber is currently available for viewing at Rendezvous or at Varela’s Construction Supply in San Pedro.

     Thus far, mahogany (Swietenia Macrophylla) and Santa Maria are the two types of Belizean hardwoods being extracted by New World Timbers. Timbers range from 18-36 inches wide and can be cut from 8-20 feet in length. According to Joe, mahogany felled in the forests of Belize cannot be exported legally, but sunken timbers can, opening an unlimited international market.

     Joe believes that New World Timbers allows Belizeans "to participate in their own development." At a time when the global economy appears to be cutting out the "real people" of the world, this enterprise promotes yet another sustainable livelihood for Belizeans. New World Timbers is restoring an old industry through modern methods in an environmentally friendly way. Small logs are left behind to maintain fish habitats in the river.

     "We are trying alternative eco-friendly solutions for harvesting submerged lumber within the guidelines of international treaties that Belize is a signatory to. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a sustainable enterprise that will continue to provide for the future of Belize," ended Joe. For more information on the availability and pricing of New World Timbers, please contact Glen Schwendinger at 226-3426 or Joe Morrison at 610-4068.

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