The County Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to adopt a bill banning county government from purchasing products made from any of 43 tropical woods.
The bill, proposed by Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, is similar to laws passed in Howard County and Baltimore City. Harford's measure will take effect in January unless vetoed by the county executive.
The new law is considered mostly symbolic by county administrators since Harford government purchases few products made with tropical woods.
Specifically, the bill prohibits the county from signing orrenewing contracts that require the use of any of the tropical woodslisted in the bill, such as balsa and rosewood, or exotic imports such as zebrawood, which comes from South America.
Pierno said she introduced the bill because a boycott "is a fast and effective way to raise awareness now" of the need to protect rain forests from deforestation.
The strongest argument for such a bill came during public testimony two weeks ago from Lisa Nowakowski, a Bel Air resident and environmentalist.
At a public hearing on the bill two weeks ago, Nowakowski told council members of the recent discovery of the winged bean, a new source of protein found in the rain forests of New Guinea.
"It's not only that we are destroying habitats, but by cutting down the rain forests we're destroying possible food sources before we've even discovered them," said Nowakowski. "The winged bean of New Guinea, only recently discovered, has more protein than any other food. Many medicinal plants come from the rain forest as well. There are such riches, have we barely begun to scratch the surface? We don't even know what we're losing."
Opponents of the bill are concerned about the effectiveness of a boycott and about penalties against contract bidders who unknowingly supplied the county with a product that contained tropical wood.
John O'Neill, director of procurement, saidthe new law should have minimal effect on the county's purchase of desks, windows, wood trim and other products.
Although tropical woods are sometimes found in plywood, for example, the bill "really is more of a statement than anything else," said O'Neill, who testified in favor of the bill at a public hearing two weeks ago on behalf of the county administration.
Bill violations would fall under the county's procurement code, he said. Bidders who mislead the county about whether tropical wood is among the products used in materials they were selling the county could be disqualified from bidding on future county government purchases.