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Is Palo Santo Endangered?

ENDANGERED: "The Future of Love" (Pt. I of III)
- The Environmental Issue -

Category Palo Santo / Published: Nov-04-2019 by Ian Elliott

Let Love be your guide...

It’s time to help set the record straight. We've all seen the buzz across various online sources concerning the current environmental status of "Palo Santo" (Bursera graveolens) products. Given our role as One Love Holistics: The Palo Santo Company, it is both our duty & pleasure to provide you with some first-hand insight into this subject.

ENDANGERED: “The Future of Love” is a three-part mini-series that touches on each of the following topics in relation to our beloved botanical of Bursera graveolens, a.k.a. "Palo Santo."

  1. The Environmental Issue
  2. The Socio-Cultural Issue
  3. The Love Issue

We are sharing this information so that you as an individual may make your own informed & conscious choices. We do not promote fear-based narratives, nor do we perpetuate inaccurate information as fact. We're simply here to share a specialized knowledge obtained from our first-hand experience working & researching in this niche field for the past five years. Furthermore, the core intention of this mini-series is to call attention to the single-most vitally important message of all: that of Love.

You’re currently reading “The Environmental Issue,” so let’s get right to it…

PART I: The Environmental Issue

The "Palo Santo" Misinformation Frenzy of 2019

You may or may not be aware of the wave of misinformation that was widely shared across social media & several wellness blogs in 2019 concerning the rising popularity status of "Palo Santo" a.k.a. Bursera graveolens. The origin of this wave can be traced to the viral social media reposts of two previously published, albeit factually inaccurate blog articles. In one of which, the author had incorrectly mixed up the endangerment status of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) with that of another species which shares the exact same common name, but is in fact not the same species at all. This other species, known as "Bulnesia sarmientoi" is also referred to as "Palo Santo" in its native countries of Argentina & Paraguay, and its wood is used as a lumber product for the purpose of commercial construction. The "Palo Santo" (Bursera graveolens) more commonly used in aromatherapy is a tree that originates in the dry forests of Ecuador & Perú, and is a species known as "Bursera graveolens." This highly revered tree has been praised for its pleasant aromatic qualities for generations. They are two distinctly separate species, native to geographically different regions of South America & utilized for different applications.

The #1 reason the severity of misinformation has escalated to this point is due to the species confusion between Bulnesia sarmientoi & Bursera graveolens. One of them is currently recognized as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List and the other is not. This mixup between these two unrelated species of trees was further convoluted with claims alleging the inaccessibility of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) wood by the native communities from which the trees originate. As a specialized niche team who works directly at the source in both Ecuador & Perú, it is from first-hand experience that we can help to educate you on the current environmental & social elements behind the scenes of the modern Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) trade.

Let us clarify a few key facts...

Fact #I:

“Palo Santo” is a common name that is used for several different & distinctly UNRELATED botanical species. There are several unique species that are traded throughout the world under the common name of “Palo Santo.” This is one of the primary reasons why scientists and environmentalists use the scientific classification of a species, as opposed to the common name of a tree or plant when conducting academic research. It creates confusion when one uses the same “common name” to refer to a variety of different trees that are unrelated and not of the same botanical origin.

Fact #II:

Bursera graveolens is the correct botanical classification for the “Palo Santo” that we know and love. Contrary to the recent rounds of social media posts that began circulating circa April 2019, this species is NOT Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List, nor CITES Appendices,…as being falsely claimed by many of the widely-shared posts on Instagram & Facebook. The environmental status of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) is declared as "Least Concern" according to the most recent IUCN Red List assessment data (published Aug. 2019) with documented stable tree populations existing throughout Central & South America.

Fact #III:

Bulnesia sarmientoi,” is an entirely different species of tree that IS listed on the CITES Appendix, AND the IUCN Red List database as an endangered species. The common name of this species is also referred to as “Palo Santo." This species is endangered due to its use as a lumber material for commercial-scale construction. This particular species is also traded as “Verawood” and has nothing to do with the “Palo Santo” we know and love. The mate gourds, the “Palo Santo” brew barrels, the distinctly green-colored mala necklaces you see in metaphysical stores sold as “Palo Santo,” and many of the companies based in Argentina & Paraguay working with “Palo Santo” related products are all derived from Bulnesia sarmientoi. The current endangerment status of this entirely separate species of tree is largely responsible for helping fuel the wave of misinformation circulated throughout social media in 2019.

Q: What is CITES?

A: CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is one of the primary international regulatory agreement treaties responsible for ensuring the protection of endangered flora and fauna throughout the world. The data gathered and used by CITES is consolidated from a number of sources around the globe, including the IUCN: the international environmental conservation agency responsible for the treaty's official implementation in 1975.

Q: What is the IUCN?

A: IUCN is an acronym for the "International Union for Conservation of Nature." This is an international organization that specializes in the conservation of the planet's natural habitats and the sustainable management of the natural resources originating from these habitats. IUCN is comprised of over 1,400 governmental and non-governmental organizations, with approx. 16,000 scientists and academic experts participating on a voluntary basis. The IUCN headquarters is located in Gland, Switzerland & they employ approximately 1,000 full time staff in more than 50 countries. They act as an environmental consultant for well-established organizations such as the United Nations, among a list of many others. The IUCN is responsible for maintaining a collective database known as the IUCN “Red List” in which the endangerment status of various flora and fauna are monitored around the world. While there are several endangered species lists in existence today, the IUCN Red List is one of the most widely-cited & globally recognized.

What about the posts that claim….“Less than 250 Mature Adult Trees Left in the Wild”

The various social media posts claiming that there are less than “250 Mature Adult Trees” remaining in the wild are both factually incorrect & highly misleading. The origin of this particular claim is due to a previously published blog article from a well-established website that cites an outdated forest assessment report as the source of its findings. This report data was incorrectly interpreted by the original author & erroneously presented to the public as a result. Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) trees are endemic to the dry forest regions of Ecuador & Perú & often grow in densely concentrated populations. There exists millions of hectares of dry forest land throughout the nations of Ecuador & Perú & these distinctly-defined geographical zones are home to an innumerable amount of native Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) trees. One can encounter hundreds of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) trees within only a few hectares across these dense dry forest regions. This false claim of less than 250 Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) trees remaining in the wild continues to be spread by those who have been previously misinformed.

I've heard that Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) is endangered in Perú, but not in Ecuador?

In both countries, Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) is a tree that is regulated by the national agricultural agencies due to its inherent nature of being an environmentally-sensitive forestry product, and as such, will always be potentially subject to unethical logging practices by unsavory actors in pursuit of illegal commercial gain. This is true of not just Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), but of all forestry and food products from the wild. This is the primary reason for the foundation of the environmental regulatory agencies in existence today. It is these agencies who ultimately oversee the sustainable management and legal regulation of all forest resources, including our beloved Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) trees. There exists a number of permits & formally documented environmental land-management plans that are required to receive official government-authorized permission to collect, process, and/or distribute any products of forest origin. This permission is granted to the native communities who manage vast tracts of rural land, often numbering in the thousands of hectares, where there exists an abundance of natural forest resources that can be sustainably utilized to help economically empower these same communities. The intention of these programs is to promote long-term environmental management plans that facilitate conservation & regeneration over the unsustainable "here today, gone tomorrow" approach of illegal operators.

The country of Perú originally recognized the endangered status of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), alongside numerous other potentially threatened forestry species in the early 2000s. The basis behind this initial classification was due to the widespread logging that had been taking place in the dry forests of Northern Perú prior to this time: the clear-cutting of dry forest lands for mono-crop commercial agriculture farms & an increasing demand for cattle fields, entirely unrelated to the collection of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) for commercial purposes. To address the issue of environmental conservation of the nation's natural habits, as well as to combat the illegal extraction of unauthorized forestry products, the country of Perú later established a sub-agency division of their Ministry of Agriculture that would come to be known as "SERFOR," several years after the original set of reports were presented in the early 2000s. One of the primary purposes of SERFOR was to create a formal organization through which the country's rural communities could be educated on how to navigate the sustainable management of forestry resources, while economically sustaining their communities through the environmental stewardship of their multi-generational lands. Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) is a tool that allows a number of native communities throughout Northern Perú to help sustain their way of life and help economically uplift them by contributing to the infrastructure costs of rural communal living when done in the right way. In the year of 2019, the trade of forestry products is fully supported by the local communities of the dry forests, as well as endorsed by the environmental division of the Peruvian government. Today, any legal source of forestry products in the country of Perú must work directly with SERFOR, the only agency in the nation that legally permits and authorizes the trade of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) products of verifiably legitimate and ethical origin. At One Love Holistics, we not only require strict compliance within each country's regulatory legal framework that governs the trade of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), our team conducts independent audits of all producers involved in our supply chain, directly at the source. We do this to ensure our company remains aligned with those who value conservation (the protection of existing dry forest lands) and reforestation (the continuous planting of trees that have already naturally fallen) over environmental degradation and unethical business practices.

So what's the deal with "ethical" Palo Santo?

Coffee & chocolate are two great examples of marketplaces where one can find outdated business models still dominating the scene in modern times. Inhumane labor standards and environmentally-harmful cultivation practices that continue to be fueled by a handful of mega-sized incumbents that value the dollar over all else. Eventually, a handful of smaller-sized and more sustainably-oriented participants find their way into the trade. Like many of their customers, they do not resonate with these harmfully archaic business models, so they make a conscious choice to create an alternative path that helps provide a solution to the real problems that currently exist in the market. They do this by building conscious supply chains directly at the source to facilitate a transparent trade model & to ultimately promote the betterment of the members of these supply chains who are historically marginalized the most: the producers. These companies that begin as small startups eventually expand into well-established influencers in their respective marketplaces, simply by the continued embodiment of their ethically-aligned business practices, made possible only through the support of their customers who share a similar worldview. This wave of conscious businesses who promote sustainability and humane treatment, continue to displace the outdated incumbents by 1% of the global marketshare at a time, year-after-year, as the end consumers continue to cast their purchase votes for the vision they choose to support.

One can find numerous conscious companies in each of these trades operating successfully, with "success" being measured by positive social-impact & ethical economic empowerment. When properly implemented, a conscious business model allows for a positive feedback loop of environmental, social, & economic growth that ultimately rewards all of those involved for doing things the right way. Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) is a product that requires responsible global actors who can mindfully respect the entirety of its life-cycle: from its original context as a tree in the forest, to its role as a globally traded aromatherapy product around the world. It must be highly revered by those involved with its sourcing and distribution to ensure its long-term environmental conservation status through the responsible stewardship of its native forest lands.

It is of critical importance that the conscious leaders in our niche space are driven by an authentic soul purpose, supported through the development of ethically & economically empowering business models, rather than the archaically outdated system of pillaging in reckless pursuit of profit. Unethical opportunists exist in every trade under the sun, and Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) is no exception. When consumers demand a bottom dollar price for a commodity as environmentally delicate as Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens), and choose not to align with a more transparent source, this purchase decision ultimately fuels the illegal and unrighteous behavior of unethical companies who do not value our earth's natural habitats, nor the humane treatment of the human beings involved in their supply chains.

Do you truly know your source? When customers who put their personal and professional trust in your business begin to ask you the most important questions, are you equipped with confident and educated answers? In the modern age of commerce, transparency is one of the number one values driving the shift of consumer behavior. 

As with any botanical, there are those who work consciously & there are those who simply do not care about any type of connection with the product they are working with beyond its fundamental economic value. There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of third-party online resellers who have popped up over the past couple of years, including at the source in South America. While we adamantly support the mindful distribution of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) products, we have experienced first-hand the inauthentic motivation driving a number of these businesses. For those acting in an opportunist nature because they believe this product is a “quick sale” to turn “profit,” and treat it as merely such….we can say that only time will reveal their truth.

As a consumer, one needs to carefully filter their sources to ensure they are aligned with a genuinely ethical company. This is true of not only Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) products, but of any product in modern times. This can be difficult, as a number of these problematic actors will tell you whatever your ears need to hear in order to capture your business. “Sustainably Sourced” and “Ethically Wildcrafted” hold zero value if they are simply buzz terms being thrown around as a marketing ploy with no real action or information behind them. Do not be misled by companies online who lack genuine transparency. Have you sat face-to-face at the table with your vendor? Have you established healthy relationships that you know are respectfully built on conscious sourcing practices? Better yet, have you walked through the forests where your products are coming from & can confidently say you know exactly what’s going on with your source? While this may be true for a handful of individuals, the more common answer is probably not. It is simply not viable for many individuals and businesses due to the geographic, economic, and linguistic barriers necessary in order to do-so. This is the reason One Love Holistics: The Palo Santo Company exists. We are an experienced & trusted source through which one can be assured that all of their Palo Santo (Burserea graveolens) products are of conscious origin & made with love. For us, the value of environmentally conscious forestry practices & the humane treatment of our native community partners far outweigh the value of the dollar.

Now with all of that said...

Just because Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) isn’t considered endangered according to the IUCN Red List, doesn’t mean it is free those who threaten its future. It is essential that consumers educate themselves to ensure the conscientious sourcing of this environmentally & energetically delicate botanical product! There is no shortage of unconscious actors within our niche trade. This is true of every industry that involves the use of the earth's natural resources, and especially so with exotic woods used for incense around the world. Many of the world’s exotic heartwoods fall victim to the cycle of unethical harvest and unconscious trade due to the unsavory actors whom are driven solely by monetary greed and misguided paths. Whether it’s cedar wood, sandalwood, agar wood, teak wood, rosewood, or any of the hundreds of other woods & plants around the world…the product itself is merely a medium. It is the actors involved, who set the stage for what the future holds in store collectively for all of us.

One Love Holistics® works directly at the source to help uplift and empower the communities from which our products originate. We stand in firm opposition of the abuse and exploitation of the producers involved with traditional third-party supply chains. As “The Palo Santo Company,” Palo Santo is not just another item in our product catalog. Palo Santo is the core of our very essence.

Our PURPOSE, a.k.a. our "WHY" is to serve the interest of Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens) through the continued conservation of its environmental habitats & to promote the ethical economic empowerment of its multi-generational native communities! We are merely the messengers, fulfilling our role as an ethically-aligned purveyor of one of nature's most powerful botanical tools for conscious consumers around the world. This is the SOUL reason One Love Holistics: The Palo Santo Company was established almost a decade ago.

Care to make a genuine difference and positively impact those around you? Please stop spreading misinformation. No matter the topic! Please understand that all content put in front of you on the internet should always be mindfully approached. Know your source. No matter the product! Whether it’s the shirt on your back, the beverage in your cup, or the incense burning in your sanctuary. Are you supporting conscious businesses and taking the necessary steps to educate & shift consumer behavior for the better? Take a trip…or two. Tune IN. Recognize the oneness from which you originate & to which you shall surely return:

Be Love.

Love is patient, Love is kind...

1 Corinthians 13:4


ENDANGERED: "The Future of Love"
Pt. II of III - The Socio-Cultural Issue -

Category Palo Santo / Published: Nov-04-2019

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