Illegal logging is a major global concern not only when it comes to climate change. It severely disturbs people’s livelihoods and food security, natural habitats and accounts for a serious loss of annual revenue in the logging industry.
One of the major reasons for the continuous illegal logging is identification of imported timber via paper documents. Custom officers still rely on a paper trail to identify border-crossing timber, which is not very difficult to temper with. This results in up to half of the globally traded timber being sourced illegally. So, many approaches have recently focused on identification which comes from within the wood and cannot be falsified; the DNA.
Professor Pieter Zuidema from Wageningen University, spent years combing through the DNA of the tropical tree species called Tali with the project Timtrace, in coordination with the Global Timber Tracking Network. By measuring mutations in tree DNA, Zuidema could distinguish familial traits and develop an approach to trace back Tali timber to its geographic origins.
Elsewhere, approaching real time timber tracking technology, researchers attempted to determine the wood’s origin from the reflected radiation of tree rings flashed with near-infrared beams. At a recent science conference BioMicroWorld2017, forestry consultants from GEA Forestal in Madrid, Spain, learned that tree rings also contain data on the origin of trees. They founded the EU-funded NIRWOOD project to turn this discovery into a portable tracker to counter illegal logging. After charting out the near-infrared response of thousands of trees in different areas, they are now using the power of big data to home in on their point of origin.
Near-infrared scanners were first adopted in industry to establish the quality of timber products because wooden beams absorb slightly different shades of near-infrared radiation depending on their physical and mechanical properties.
At present, near-infrared scanners cost upwards of EUR 40 000, but NIRWOOD is adapting their design. If they can bring prices closer to EUR 5 000, the technology could prove useful not only to law enforcement, but also to some 400 000 EU companies engaged in wood-based manufacturing that are now obliged to apply due diligence to their raw materials. If NIRWOOD continues this development, tracking the origin of border-crossing timber could be done as fast as the cashier scans our cereal in the supermarket.
Zuidema and his project team are continuously looking for wood samples of African timbers. If you can provide these wood samples, please check out the Timtrace sampling protocol and sample form and contact them directly.
Check out the full interview with Pieter Zuidema and additional Information here.
November 14, 2017 by Jude Gonzalez