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I'm in Suzhou attempting to commission a bow from a master bow maker but it seems they don't want my business. Long Gen Chen, VSA prize winner, (striped shirt) received me in his palatial establishment and was not shy to admit he was more interested in making money than making bows. Like other expert bow makers, he has trained others to make shop bows that are retailed by dealers using either his name or their own. His own bows are the only ones branded with his name and his personal output is two per year for a charge of USD 4,000 each.

 

Same story with Wang Hong whose workers produce fine bows selling for between USD 400 - 800 but are not from the master's hands. I can't blame them for wanting to cash in on their talent but it seems in contrast to makers in the west who have a genuine and lifetime calling for their craft.

 

I ended up buying a fascinating bow with carbon fibre core wrapped with a thin layer of pernambuco. Said to have the playing characteristics of a Sartory made with old wood no longer obtainable. (USD 80).

 

Glenn

 

 

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... a fascinating bow with carbon fibre core wrapped with a thin layer of pernambuco...

 

I rehaired a bow like this for one of my customers.  I thought that the interior of the head mortise seemed odd, but I didn't realize that it wasn't solid wood until he told me. 

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Weird.

 

I haven't seen one of these bows yet...

I have to wonder; why the thin outer layer of pernambuco?

If it is just to make the bow look like pernambuco? - if so, then it's just a matter of some time (a short amount, I would guess) before they simply do away with it. (the pernambuco, that is)

 

This is going to be an interesting, albeit slow, change with what's considered a GREAT MATERIAL for bow makers, I think.

How actually rare is pernambuco now-a-days? Does anyone here really know?

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I rehaired a bow like this for one of my customers.  I thought that the interior of the head mortise seemed odd, but I didn't realize that it wasn't solid wood until he told me. 

 

Was the client happy with the bow's performance?

I've noticed that the Chinese makers use rubbish hair even on their top of the range, gold mounted bows.

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Weird.

 

I haven't seen one of these bows yet...

I have to wonder; why the thin outer layer of pernambuco?

If it is just to make the bow look like pernambuco? - if so, then it's just a matter of some time (a short amount, I would guess) before they simply do away with it. (the pernambuco, that is)

 

This is going to be an interesting, albeit slow, change with what's considered a GREAT MATERIAL for bow makers, I think.

How actually rare is pernambuco now-a-days? Does anyone here really know?

 

It seems that the outer layer is as thin as paper and serves the purposes of making the bow's appearance look more traditional. In fact, I suspect that the pernam is knife cut like a pencil sharpener and doesn't look quite right. I'll post a picture soon.

 

As for the rarity of pernambuco, they admitted they purchased in bulk from Brazil but it seems that 1000kg of wood only yields about 31kg of good enough quality for bow making.

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Weird.

 

I haven't seen one of these bows yet...

I have to wonder; why the thin outer layer of pernambuco?

If it is just to make the bow look like pernambuco? - if so, then it's just a matter of some time (a short amount, I would guess) before they simply do away with it. (the pernambuco, that is)

 

This is going to be an interesting, albeit slow, change with what's considered a GREAT MATERIAL for bow makers, I think.

How actually rare is pernambuco now-a-days? Does anyone here really know?

 

It won't be long before carbon fiber is banned due to the global pressures of reducing the carbon footprint.

 

 

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Was the client happy with the bow's performance?

I've noticed that the Chinese makers use rubbish hair even on their top of the range, gold mounted bows.

I've noticed this also, I have no idea what sort of hair they use but it's absolute crap... Strands are normally twisted (some look semi permed lol), normally thick and uneven, really oddly colored, never in the right quantity and seriously dry as a bone. I mean why the dealers don't complain is beyond me, personally it looks like ALL the hair they use even on the top of the line produce is bleached white from grey...

 

It seems that the outer layer is as thin as paper and serves the purposes of making the bow's appearance look more traditional. In fact, I suspect that the pernam is knife cut like a pencil sharpener and doesn't look quite right. I'll post a picture soon.

 

As for the rarity of pernambuco, they admitted they purchased in bulk from Brazil but it seems that 1000kg of wood only yields about 31kg of good enough quality for bow making.

 

The problem with pernambuco is exactly that, a very small percentage of the actual wood is used to make decent bows. This has gotten worst with scarcity...

 

It won't be long before carbon fiber is banned due to the global pressures of reducing the carbon footprint.

 

Please don't joke about the decision to list pernambuco on the CITES listings. As things are right now, future generations will not have quality pernambuco for their bows as the efforts to repopulate the Atlantic forest are not exactly going well. People need to get serious about the material problem if they want the violin family of instruments to live on past the next generation... Ebony is in free fall, Pernambuco is abysmall as of right now and unless maple forests in europe are replanted we may just have an issue with that in the future. You can't cut down trees and not replant them after 500 years of abuse and expect them to magically repopulate themselves and grow big enough to be of use in luthier craft... 

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Weird.

 

I haven't seen one of these bows yet...

I have to wonder; why the thin outer layer of pernambuco?

If it is just to make the bow look like pernambuco? - if so, then it's just a matter of some time (a short amount, I would guess) before they simply do away with it. (the pernambuco, that is)

 

This is going to be an interesting, albeit slow, change with what's considered a GREAT MATERIAL for bow makers, I think.

How actually rare is pernambuco now-a-days? Does anyone here really know?

 

 

I rehaired a bow like this for one of my customers.  I thought that the interior of the head mortise seemed odd, but I didn't realize that it wasn't solid wood until he told me. 

 

I think these bows were pioneered by Benoit Rolland, now almost 10 years ago: http://www.benoitrolland.com/spiccato1.php

Whether the pernambuco contributes to the weight and tension balance or whether it is merely a veneer I don't know.

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Please don't joke about the decision to list pernambuco on the CITES listings. As things are right now, future generations will not have quality pernambuco for their bows as the efforts to repopulate the Atlantic forest are not exactly going well. People need to get serious about the material problem if they want the violin family of instruments to live on past the next generation... Ebony is in free fall, Pernambuco is abysmall as of right now and unless maple forests in europe are replanted we may just have an issue with that in the future. You can't cut down trees and not replant them after 500 years of abuse and expect them to magically repopulate themselves and grow big enough to be of use in luthier craft... 

 

Well, you've pretty much answered any further questions I might have regarding this subject, then.

 

I thought that this might be the case regarding pernambuco - but then again, one never really knows what the real story is, outside of the word of mouth that goes around. Bow wood (pernambuco) is essential to the "real quality" of bows being produced then? 

Are the carbon fiber ones not up to the inherent quality of a decently made (solid, real) pernambuco bow?

 

I have been wondering about this, as my own bowing violinist skills aren't up to the point where it really matters yet, and they will never be, I'm just not violinist enough to be able to really tell the difference between a good cf bow and a good pernambuco one. So, I often wonder what the verdict is amongst real violinists? I mean, the people that play professionally for a living and such. Do they have a general preference in the real world?

 

And, I see the 'materials question' as being central to many of our pursuits in lutherie.

But I always wonder about the 'availability' versus the 'scarcity' problems as; real versus political crap, that is sometimes created to control certain objects of trade. 

The truth is out there, of course, but it's slightly out of my real knowledge - what it might be. I admit to being a violin maker only, and having many other concerns in life to contend with, than seeking out the real truth of many of these matters.

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Well, you've pretty much answered any further questions I might have regarding this subject, then.

 

I thought that this might be the case regarding pernambuco - but then again, one never really knows what the real story is, outside of the word of mouth that goes around. Bow wood (pernambuco) is essential to the "real quality" of bows being produced then? 

Are the carbon fiber ones not up to the inherent quality of a decently made (solid, real) pernambuco bow?

 

I have been wondering about this, as my own bowing violinist skills aren't up to the point where it really matters yet, and they will never be, I'm just not violinist enough to be able to really tell the difference between a good cf bow and a good pernambuco one. So, I often wonder what the verdict is amongst real violinists? I mean, the people that play professionally for a living and such. Do they have a general preference in the real world?

 

And, I see the 'materials question' as being central to many of our pursuits in lutherie.

But I always wonder about the 'availability' versus the 'scarcity' problems as; real versus political crap, that is sometimes created to control certain objects of trade. 

The truth is out there, of course, but it's slightly out of my real knowledge - what it might be. I admit to being a violin maker only, and having many other concerns in life to contend with, than seeking out the real truth of many of these matters.

 

I've been meaning to write a thread to help shed some light over the woods used, I've come across a lot of problems though while gathering information because many things are contradictory to popular notions luthiers have and little has been done on an objective nature to try and sort things out. I might just go general in concept and maybe gather video evidence to try and explain in a less tiresome format than if I was to write it all down... It's going to sound like a lecture in a botany physiology class...

 

Basic points to consider.

 

1- Species variation and general understanding of quality relations in light of these variations -

What everyone states as being "Pau Brazil" or more commonly in english- Pernambuco (not the correct term as this is a reference to a place WHERE a certain kind of Pau Brazil was abundant and not the species as a whole) is not a clear cut species without regional variations that all looks and is "built" the same. What I mean to say (and this might be helpful in understanding some very important things regarding quality) is that the grade of pernambuco as a whole for bow making is not only dependent on the species (there are various species of pernambuco) but also WHERE it came from seeing as all over Brazil (at least there used to be) there were numerous different regional variations of the species with I believe varying qualities and properties. Simply stated, "pernambuco" which is/was considered top notch quality for bow production might be more closed tied to a specific regional variation within a population of a CERTAIN zone.

 

One of the things I came across that led me to believe such a theory was plausible was the fact that morphological differences between Pau de Brasil Paulista (Sao Paulo's regional variation of Pernambuco) was remarkably different in both physical aspects and wood to the population native to the Great Rio area... The interesting and extremely worrisome part is the fact that a great many regional specie variations are all but obliterated as the forest the trees inhabited was/is totally gone (and there is little to no chance of bringing that specific pernambuco back). Now if this is anywhere near true it would explain why bow makers of recent years are complaining so much about the lack of quality pernambuco in comparison with the material used in older sticks, it might just be that the regional species responsible for such great sounding bows has been removed from the market as it's forests are totally obliterated.

 

2- Both Pernambuco and the various ebony trees take a hell of a long time under the right conditions to naturally grow into the quality of trees with the quantity of wood needed (Quality of materials in these species is tied to how large/old they are so whats a double whammy right there). Forestation efforts with these specific trees simply are not producing the desired effects as these species are now subject to stress and environmental alterations which they simply cannot cope with. As much as they might try (and believe me all efforts in motion are extremely needed if you want these species  to not start falling under the extinct category) the trees simply are not made to grow under such conditions in a rapid and healthy fashion.

 

Now the interesting bits (at least for me).

 

Regarding pernambuco - The bow has suffered alterations through out history, it WAS a very normal occurrence which normally revolved around materials used. If you look at the last alterations and realize that Mr Tourte's contribution to the evolution of bows did not happen in virtue of ideals of what a bow should be, look like, weight etc etc but rather on the wood itself and it's peculiar properties this should shed some hope on the matter. Truth be told, pernambuco was used because it was available and unlike anything anyone had ever used before in conjuction with new demands in playing at the time, we today have a crap top of material both biological and artificial which can spark a further evolution if people stopped being so stuck on "this is the only way, the only possible workable way and there are no other options". This evolution however needs to revolve around a new design which caters to different materials.

 

Problems with the current research into alternative materials -

1 major problem - They all revolve around a bow model that was created and tailor made around an extremely specific material which does not allow even the slightest of deviations. Case and point - Bow makers who work with blanks that are not "amazing" in quality will often times end up with a bow that sounds "horrible", even if they do work with top of the line blanks it's very very possible that the bow MAY not perform past acceptable in a wide range of instruments. This led me to realize that we're looking at the "good bow" "bad bow" comparison in the wrong light LOL Maybe it's not that a bow is "amazingly good!" but that it's actually "Not terrible and let's the violin do it's thing!!!". If I'm actually right would that not lead people into thinking MAYBE pernambuco has it's faults and that they are not that few and not that amazing? Truth be told AND THIS IS IMPORTANT - what exactly do we compare pernambuco to, are there that many options on the market? Has anyone worked the existing options into a design cater made for them? HOW can people state there is no other option she it comes to bows when they simply haven't actually had options to play with?

 

It's this sort of mentality issue that stops progression. I do understand that history has it's value and that almost everything related with luthier craft has 3 and a half tons of vernacular voodoo and billows of mysticism surrounding it but something has got to give. We're in 2014, for god's sake and not 1714 -_- Pernambuco is heading off the deep end and ebony will take some 300 years of intense forestation to MAYBE supply the world with enough for half of it's uses for it. Viotti was faced with an issue and Tourte stepped up to the plate and made the stuff sugar barrels were made out of work with a new design... Both are forever in the history books, don't you all think it's time we did as they did and actually resolve a problem via evolution of design? 

 

I won't even start on the physical problems with the "modern" bows design which makes it beyond fragile... No matter how careful you are with the rehair process, you are going to be damaging the bow in one way or another...

 

I'm starting to think the cremonese and the french from the 16th,17th and half of the 18th century had more capacity for innovation (as well as more knowledge and propensity to deal with things on a creative level) than all of us modern day maestroneters put together and they had a hell of a lot more to be worried about... PLAGUE for example and lack of food -_-

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Just an aside apropos of diminishing wood supplies. 

 

The other day I did some research on split bamboo fly rods, they are pretty neat. I was thinking that some one will use split bamboo with or without composite core at some point soon and make some very nice bows. The only hitch was integrating head with the stick in way that is intrinsic to the hexagonal construction method....

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Lawrence Cocker of Derby England made very fine split cane bows starting in the 1960's.  Heads and handles were grafted from various woods.  Because they were cheaper than pernambuco, I was able to purchase one while I was still a student.  Later Joseph Kun took it as a trade in but I have recently acquired two more, one for violin and one for viola.  They are interesting bows, beautifully made.  I'm told that after Mr. Cocker died, Mrs. Cocker continued to make them for a while but with greatly diminished skill.  Martin Swan currently has one for sale on his website.

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Just an aside apropos of diminishing wood supplies. 

 

The other day I did some research on split bamboo fly rods, they are pretty neat. I was thinking that some one will use split bamboo with or without composite core at some point soon and make some very nice bows. The only hitch was integrating head with the stick in way that is intrinsic to the hexagonal construction method....

 

It's been done and is being done right now to great applause :) Interesting that people know about the potential of bamboo (specific species!) because it's only "fault" in comparison to pernambuco is simply the need to alter the shape of the bow to make it fit the material better. The good news about bamboo is with it's supply availability, cheapness and consistency in quality. It has the physical properties needed to surpass pernambuco in both handling AND sound once a proper new bow design is altered from the current version to fit it better.

 

Lawrence Cocker of Derby England made very fine split cane bows starting in the 1960's.  Heads and handles were grafted from various woods.  Because they were cheaper than pernambuco, I was able to purchase one while I was still a student.  Later Joseph Kun took it as a trade in but I have recently acquired two more, one for violin and one for viola.  They are interesting bows, beautifully made.  I'm told that after Mr. Cocker died, Mrs. Cocker continued to make them for a while but with greatly diminished skill.  Martin Swan currently has one for sale on his website.

 There is an american bow maker working with the material, if what I've heard is correct, even with the price of his bows being astronomical his wait list is pretty close to that of Mr Burgress ( that's a huge compliment!).

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Re the Cocker bows (Ron MacDonald post#16)

This is the original advertizing brochure from Cocker himself, which answers all the technical questions: ie. 6 segments of Tonkin cane, bent over a form, and not bent by heat.

post-24603-0-26152700-1404484035_thumb.jpg

Cocker was a close friend of my dad, and I can well remember him as a small child. Both he, and my father made violas for Tertis. He both visited us and I can remember being dragged along on the train to Derby to visit him. As a small child what impressed me most, was his ability to flick his thumb planes, between index finger and thumb, all the way across the table, and get them to land in their box every time.

@ Ron. The Mrs. Cocker you refer to was his daughter, (if I can trust my memory, called Jenny) and it was her who haired all of his bows, since he disliked doing that

Since I see no reason why Martin should be the only one with "Product Placement" on this Forum, I have two viola bows in my bow cabinet :)

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It's this sort of mentality issue that stops progression. I do understand that history has it's value and that almost everything related with luthier craft has 3 and a half tons of vernacular voodoo and billows of mysticism surrounding it but something has got to give. We're in 2014, for god's sake and not 1714 -_- Pernambuco is heading off the deep end and ebony will take some 300 years of intense forestation to MAYBE supply the world with enough for half of it's uses for it. Viotti was faced with an issue and Tourte stepped up to the plate and made the stuff sugar barrels were made out of work with a new design... Both are forever in the history books, don't you all think it's time we did as they did and actually resolve a problem via evolution of design? 

 

I won't even start on the physical problems with the "modern" bows design which makes it beyond fragile... No matter how careful you are with the rehair process, you are going to be damaging the bow in one way or another...

 

I'm starting to think the cremonese and the french from the 16th,17th and half of the 18th century had more capacity for innovation (as well as more knowledge and propensity to deal with things on a creative level) than all of us modern day maestroneters put together and they had a hell of a lot more to be worried about... PLAGUE for example and lack of food -_-

 

Yes, good man.

I was wondering if the "usual" was the case, and I see that perhaps it is. Even though this is a subject out of my usual or preferred area of intense study. I did give an easy out for anyone to step in and make a proclamation about this subject - but no one did, and, in fact you've said what I thought was probably the case.

 

Youre right, in that we most likely need to make modern day bows out of whatever material will make them work well, and not be stuck in the thinking mode that makes them even have to "look like" pernambuco. Even if, perhaps, they're "crap" bows.

 

I don't know, but I'd say that the right person always seems to come along when he or she is needed, and change the current mode of thinking for the better. It really isn't that Mnet-ers are a stumbling block or anything like that, it's simply that the proper mind hasn't come into contact with the problem, if it even is a real problem yet.

Nothing has been lost.

And we're not any 'less able' than the people of the past. 

At least that's how I see it. The people always seem to come along with new ideas when they're really needed. And this (lutherie in general) is such a tiny part of life today that, well, you get the point, am I right?

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Re the Cocker bows (Ron MacDonald post#16)

This is the original advertizing brochure from Cocker himself, which answers all the technical questions: ie. 6 segments of Tonkin cane, bent over a form, and not bent by heat.

attachicon.gifIMG_20140704_071403.JPG

Cocker was a close friend of my dad, and I can well remember him as a small child. Both he, and my father made violas for Tertis. He both visited us and I can remember being dragged along on the train to Derby to visit him. As a small child what impressed me most, was his ability to flick his thumb planes, between index finger and thumb, all the way across the table, and get them to land in their box every time.

@ Ron. The Mrs. Cocker you refer to was his daughter, (if I can trust my memory, called Jenny) and it was her who haired all of his bows, since he disliked doing that

Since I see no reason why Martin should be the only one with "Product Placement" on this Forum, I have two viola bows in my bow cabinet :)

 

That's actually awesome as you have first hand experience with his bows, what were/are his bows like in terms of sound? He was the first and it is encouraging to see that he has a good reputation. A megaton can be learned from his items as I believe they are one of the first of this with bamboo (if not THE first) as barely anyone has ever even heard of such bows.

 

 

Yes, good man.

I was wondering if the "usual" was the case, and I see that perhaps it is. Even though this is a subject out of my usual or preferred area of intense study. I did give an easy out for anyone to step in and make a proclamation about this subject - but no one did, and, in fact you've said what I thought was probably the case.

 

Youre right, in that we most likely need to make modern day bows out of whatever material will make them work well, and not be stuck in the thinking mode that makes them even have to "look like" pernambuco. Even if, perhaps, they're "crap" bows.

 

I don't know, but I'd say that the right person always seems to come along when he or she is needed, and change the current mode of thinking for the better. It really isn't that Mnet-ers are a stumbling block or anything like that, it's simply that the proper mind hasn't come into contact with the problem, if it even is a real problem yet.

Nothing has been lost.

And we're not any 'less able' than the people of the past. 

At least that's how I see it. The people always seem to come along with new ideas when they're really needed. And this (lutherie in general) is such a tiny part of life today that, well, you get the point, am I right?

 

The times are changing and If what I see bleeding across my kiddies is a measure of what the next generation will be like, it's more than a good sign (I'm also a bit to blame in regards to their openness and willingness to be critical).

 

One fun fact regarding pernambuco's popularity and highly regarded nature is actually *shocker* rooted in it's history and first usages and *again shocking* 500 years later the notions around and as well as the allure which surrounded this wood survives totally and exclusively intact nowhere else but in the luthier world... Upon discovery, Pau Brasil was so economically viable and desirable that Brasil was named after it (brasilina or the red dye it produces comes from the word brasa = roughly translated into "ember" referring to the color hue which was extremely difficult to reproduce before the discovery of this strange wood). Pau Brasil was used extensively and almost exclusively at first to dye fabrics destined for royalty (damascus red used in royal cloaks all over europe was dyed via pernambuco). Funny how the dated Portuguese notion that pernambuco is noble still remains alive with string players not only in Portugal itself but across the world. If I were to ask what Pernambuco is to a portuguese musician, most would not be able to answer LOL

 

Someone needs to make a move a la Tourte and update our equipment, for that to happen it takes a change in current mentalities for the conditions to exist. The violin world revolves around marketing still and no one has a bigger influence then the luthiers who construct, sell and are the main propagators of trends :) Make innovation a well seen subject and explain the truth behind the myths to clients and you will see how the conditions will be border line incentivating for those with the creativity to actually push evolution along.

 

Gille Nehr's tete bêche  bows have sparked a megaton of curiosity and surprisingly a lot of well saying!

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Please don't joke about the decision to list pernambuco on the CITES listings. As things are right now, future generations will not have quality pernambuco for their bows as the efforts to repopulate the Atlantic forest are not exactly going well. People need to get serious about the material problem if they want the violin family of instruments to live on past the next generation... Ebony is in free fall, Pernambuco is abysmall as of right now and unless maple forests in europe are replanted we may just have an issue with that in the future. You can't cut down trees and not replant them after 500 years of abuse and expect them to magically repopulate themselves and grow big enough to be of use in luthier craft... 

I am all for protection of the species, Pernambuco, Ebony, Elephants, or whatever else humans are driving into extinction. What I am poking fun at is the stupidity of letting things deteriorate into such a dangerous state of affairs. It always seems to be too little too late after it's become a dire situation. In past times, how much good (or even not so good) Pernambuco was wasted on dying textiles, just to appease the consumers vanity of stylish attire?

 

Why aren't the maple forests of Europe being replanted? It doesn't take a lot of effort after cutting down a tree to  immediately plant another in its place. In Canada they have been re-foresting logged areas for quite some time now.

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I am all for protection of the species, Pernambuco, Ebony, Elephants, or whatever else humans are driving into extinction. What I am poking fun at is the stupidity of letting things deteriorate into such a dangerous state of affairs. It always seems to be too little too late after it's become a dire situation. In past times, how much good (or even not so good) Pernambuco was wasted on dying textiles, just to appease the consumers vanity of stylish attire?

 

Why aren't the maple forests of Europe being replanted? It doesn't take a lot of effort after cutting down a tree to  immediately plant another in its place. In Canada they have been re-foresting logged areas for quite some time now.

Actions are never taken no matter how unsustainable the practices are until people start feeling pressed (economically) and "Hippy biology folk" scream down the political power houses into action (I'm not tooting my own horn, this is unfortunately the reality of the situation). As is happening with the populations of european forests, the areas which used to "house" the fabled acer pseudoplatanus are occupied by humans and simply disappeared. Also the wood still is in existence which unfortunately does not spark the interests of the countries who control said species. The problem is extremely simple to understand, the powers that be do not give a rat's ass about future generations and their access to products we use today because it does not affect the current population and so they do squat.

 

One of the problems my green thumbed folk face even when programs to preserve species are put in place is lack of funding and supervision from the governments they unfortunately live under. They take samples of pernambuco, count trees, do biogeographical surveys and plot entire locations only to come back 10 years later and find that what used to be forest has all but disappeared without a trace. DNA testing of trees as well as cataloguing efforts and comparative and quantitative analysis of local species over years  only to come back to the place and find it desolate... Priorities are always swapped, you end up taking 3 steps back before you take one forward -_-

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