As bikini season approaches, Jersey Shore beach towns are preparing for their annual influx of tourists. This year, that will mean more than dusting off the cotton candy machines and stocking up on vomit deodorizer. When Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, boardwalks from Long Branch to Atlantic City -- including Seaside Heights, of Jersey Shore fame -- were damaged or destroyed. The shore is now in a frenzy of rebuilding and repairing, gearing up for Memorial Day. But environmental activists have been something of a buzz-saw kill.
The decking of these boardwalks pre-Sandy ranged from southern yellow pine to wood-plastic composite lumber to a tropical hardwood called ipe. That last option has rainforest advocates and town officials at loggerheads. Ipe, also known as Brazilian walnut, is the Cadillac of decking materials, prized for its density, fire resistance, and durability. More than one town is considering using it for boardwalk material. Environmental groups, including Rainforest Relief, Friends of the Rainforest, and the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, say tropical hardwoods are a poor choice environmentally speaking, particularly given the circumstances.
“What happens in the Brazilian rainforest [where ipe is often logged] affects the climate,” says Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter. “It’s unconscionable to add to climate disruption when you’ve just been destroyed by an environmental disaster that was caused by climate disruption.”
It’s been estimated that as much as 80 percent of the logging conducted in the Brazilian Amazon is illegal. And some activists say harvesting a tree like ipe -- with only one or two growing in a given acre -- is a devastating affair even under legal circumstances. Logging requires roads, and neighboring trees are often incidentally felled, they say. And since old-growth tropical rainforest supports the greatest biodiversity on the planet, says Tim Keating of Rainforest Relief, every injury is magnified. “You damage ecosystems there, you’re automatically losing species,” he says. “These are the genetic libraries of Mother Earth and we are burning them down to make boardwalks.”
Well, if that doesn’t just drop a doggy bomb on your beach towel ...