The recently published article in NATURE gives several examples on ways to authenticate wood species and origin from several GTTN members. Scientists are optimistic that these innovative techniques can determine the true origin of timber.
The amount of illegally logged timber is rising again, after a drop in the early 2000s. According to Interpol, between 15% and 30% of the global timber trade violates either national law or international treaties. Many high-income countries therefore banned the import of illegally sourced wood and other wood-based products, and force importers to prove their supply chains.
The article presents various examples such as the Thünen 3D reflected-light-microscope for determining charcoal origin. It also mentions the XyloTron (USFS), consisting of a customized camera and a computer loaded with a collection of images that allow the device to identify wood types.
A further approach is genetic fingerprinting, showing promise in timber investigations. Thanks to advances in that technique, it is possible to determine where a tree grew and even specify an actual forest stand.
In order to fight illegal trade, specialists are turning to technologies that can spot the signatures of illicit timber. But there are obstacles to overcome, mostly due to the lack of reference samples. Although one database will not be able to stop illegal logging, the involved parties express a hopeful optimism. “Once the industry — the traders — begin to see there’s a method that works, it’s the equivalent of a policeman on the block”, says Roger Young, chief executive officer of Agroisolab. “The chance of them being caught now is no longer zero”, says Young.
Congratulations to the many top-notch specialist members of the Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN), whose work got highlighted in this very well written article in Nature. Advanced techniques to verify wood species and geographical origin help law enforcement to build strong cases against criminal networks, and help forest-based industries to keep their supply chains in-check and their reputations managed.