Promoting Legal Timber
Illegal logging destroys forests, disrupts ecological processes, increases CO2 in the atmosphere, and provides revenue for other illicit activity. Port officials, law enforcement officers, corporations, and everyday consumers need new tools to disrupt tainted global supply chains. Cutting-edge genetic technologies can help, but in order to do so, they will require an extensive library of genetic samples from high-value timber species.
The ornate patterns found in the growth rings of about one in twenty bigleaf maples have made the species highly valuable, and as such, a prime target for illegal harvesting. PC: Tom Radulovich (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Data That Drives Change
The outdoor community is uniquely qualified to collect live tree tissue samples from far-flung locations on a large scale across a selected species’ geographic range. These samples will be used to build DNA libraries for high-value, highly-trafficked commercial timber species across the globe. These genetic reference databases will enable scientists to forensically identify the species and origin of suspicious timber, aiding customs agents in the enforcement of legislation, empowering responsible buyers, and thwarting dishonest harvesters in the illegal timber trade.
Why Care About Timber Theft?
Timber theft is a pervasive global issue with grave ecological, economic, and social consequences. It is estimated that 15-30% of all wood on the international market has been illegally sourced.
When a tree is stolen, we lose far more than something nice to look at. Trees provide habitat for countless species, stabilize soil, and shade streams. They also sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Chopping them down both halts conversion of CO2 to oxygen and releases stored carbon as discarded roots and crowns decay. Together, legal and illegal deforestation account for around 15% of global carbon emissions.
Governments and responsible timber producers lose tens of billions of dollars of revenue annually to the illegal timber trade. Timber theft has been tied to organized crime, corrupt military actions, and the violation of indigenous rights.
What We're Doing About It
In partnership with the World Resources Institute, Adventure Scientists is headed into the field to gather live tree tissue samples which talented geneticists from DNA4 Technologies and New Mexico State University will use as they develop genetic reference databases for particular species of interest.
The first phase of this project will see us focusing our efforts on the bigleaf maple, a towering hardwood that grows along the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada. Because about one in 20 bigleaf maples possesses an incredibly beautiful wood pattern, these trees are targeted by timber thieves for their high value in the guitar and furniture trade.
In early 2018, we will be calling hikers, backpackers, and sea kayakers to action. After training, volunteers will collect bigleaf maple samples such as leaves, seeds, or tree cores from select sites in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
After building the reference library for bigleaf maple, we’ll expand to other species around the world. Stay tuned for more details!