Should Harford county government help save the winged bean?
Lisa Nowakowski a Bel Air resident and environmentalist, thinks so.
She told the Harford County Council Tuesday that a bill aimed at banning the purchase of products made with tropical woods would help conserve the winged bean plant, an important source of protein that grows in the New Guinea rain forest.
According to Nowakowski, who testified during a public hearing on the bill, cutting down tropical trees for wood destroys the bean plant's habitat.
"The winged bean of New Guinea has more protein than any other food," said Nowakowski."And many medicinal plants come from the rain forest as well."
The bill, proposed by Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, would ban county purchasers from buying items that use any of 43 tropical rain forest wood products. Similar laws have been passed in Howard County and Baltimore City.
Nowakowski showed before-and-after slides of rain forests that
have been cut down for timber.
"There'sso much we can do as consumers," she said. "When I began to read about the destruction I was ashamed, and I became determined to do something."
If passed, the bill would prohibit the county from signing or renewing contracts that require the use of any of the tropical woods listed in the bill, including balsa and rosewood and exotic imports such as zebrawood, which comes from South America.
John O'Neill,director of procurement, said the bill would have minimal effect on the county's purchase of desks, windows, wood trim and other products.
"It really is more of a statement than anything else," said O'Neill.
Violations of the bill, if it is passed, would fall under thecounty's procurement code, he said.
For example, bidders who misled the county about whether tropical wood was among the products usedin materials they were selling the county could be disqualified frombidding in purchase agreements.
The council delayed action on thebill on the request of Councilman Philip J. Barker, D-District F, who wants to add tropical woods found in Puerto Rico and Hawaii to the list of protected species.
Earnest Crowfoot, speaking on behalf ofthe Chamber of Commerce, said he would favor the bill if the counciladopted an amendment that would alleviate the bidder's responsibility if the company unknowingly supplied the county with tropical wood.
Tim Smith, who owns a saw mill south of Bel Air, testified againstthe bill. He gave council members a copy of a 1990 statement issued by the Smithsonian Institution that opposed blanket bans such as the one Harford is considering.
The letter, read by Smith, states: "Blanket bans and embargoes (as contrasted to selective ones) on tropical hardwood tend to depress the value of these hardwoods and the forests that contain them.
Such contrasts generally diminish the economic incentives to conserve and manage these forest in the face of alternative land uses which lead to destruction."
Smith told the council members that "if there's no incentive, they might as well burn theforests and raise beef."
But Pierno said a boycott "is a fast andeffective way to raise awareness now."