We're collecting thousands of leaf, seed, and wood samples to create databases of the chemical and genetic signatures of tree species throughout their ranges. This information will power new tools to reveal the origin of any sample of timber––taking away illegal loggers' ability to sneak poached trees into the world's wood supply.
Eastern black walnut is the latest tree species you can adventure for science to protect!
One of the most valuable hardwood species, black walnut is under threat from timber poachers across 30+ American states in its range. This summer, you can help by exploring forests in the eastern and central US to take samples from wild trees. Those samples will become the basis of new DNA and chemical databases that law enforcement will use to prosecute timber thieves.
Black walnut joins coast redwood, bigleaf maple, western redcedar, and Alaska yellow-cedar as vulnerable species we're working with scientific partners to protect from timber poaching, a growing crime in the US and worldwide. Click below to learn more and apply for this project.
Outdoor adventurers have unique skills to collect tree samples across a wide range of locations and at the large scale needed to encompass a species' geographic ranges. Hiking, mountain biking, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, and other activities bring our volunteers to places few others venture.
The dashboard below shows where volunteers have collected eastern black walnut samples for the project. Click on individual points to view the data, or click the link below the dashboard to view in full screen.
Once collected, our samples will undergo two forms of processing: Mass Spectrometry-Data Analysis in Real Time (MS-DART or DART) and genetic analysis.
DART will reveal distinct chemical signatures in each sample. As the tree takes up water and nutrients through its roots throughout its life, it develops a distinct chemical signature. Recognizing these signatures will allow authorities to identify the geographic origin of a sample.
Genetic analysis reveals the naturally occurring variation and interrelatedness of all trees within a species. It will be used like the DART analysis to identify the origin of future timber samples, and to increase our understanding of the adaptations of the species to particular conditions throughout their ranges. This will allow for better management of existing and expanding forests. The resulting database will yield a "family tree" like no other.
Planning, permitting, analysis, interpretation, and implementation all require the coordinated actions of many players. We are proud to be working with leading organizations in the research, management, and conservation of forests and tree species.
Our partners at the U.S. Forest Service and elsewhere will use the reference libraries of black walnut, western redcedar, Alaska yellow-cedar, coast redwood, and bigleaf maple to track the movement of timber through supply chains, enforce anti-poaching regulations, empower responsible buyers, improve sustainable resource management, and help forest managers plan for the varied impacts of a changing climate.
Our partners at Save the Redwoods League are linking genetic information from coast redwood samples with the environmental characteristics of each tree’s site—giving clues about the function of the genetic variation within each species. This information will help guide conservation and restoration strategies across the coast redwood range.
New Mexico State University’s Conservation Genomics Lab focuses on identifying biological samples, particularly with respect to their geographic origin. The lab couples Next Generation Sequencing data with improved models of genetic differentiation across species’ ranges to pinpoint the source of origin of timber.
Our partners at the World Resources Institute helped to design and guide the project, leveraging their expertise in illegal logging and associated trade. The Institute is a strategy-minded, results-oriented, and outcomes-driven ‘do-tank’ with a strong track record in catalyzing cutting-edge technology to solve environmental problems.
Hear what our Forest Service partners have to say about the project!
Richard Cronn, a USDA Forest Service scientist, shares with volunteers how they are helping build one of the biggest and most useful genetic datasets of tree species. The tree samples volunteers are collecting will help the Forest Service combat timber poaching and more sustainably manage our forests.
Five Species, One Massive Effort
Ranging from Alaska to California and from coast to coast, the five species we've targeted so far are particularly vulnerable to timber poaching. Many also are on the decline due to climate change. Each species faces its own challenges and has a biological, cultural, and conservation story of its own.
This hardwood species whose common name reflects dinner-plate sized leaves, is targeted by timber thieves for spectacularly-patterned wood often used in guitars and furniture. Data collection for this species is complete.
Not a true cedar, but an arborvitae or "tree of life," this species has provided indigenous communities with countless practical and cultural uses for thousands of years. Its continued value now makes it a target for illegal logging operations. Data collection for this species is complete.
A dramatic droop to its branches makes this species instantly recognizable even without seeing the tell-tale color of its wood. Now across large parts of its range, changing climate patterns are causing mass die-offs of this treasured tree. Data collection for this species is complete.
In the map below, see where we've collected samples since 2018.
Timber Tracking Project on PBS
Get a firsthand view of our Timber Tracking project from the forest to the forensics lab in this 12-minute film featuring our scientific partners and volunteers from Earth Focus: Season 2, Episode 3 on PBS
Hear from author and ecologist Lauren E. Oakes about the unique story of the Alaska yellow-cedar. The iconic tree is freezing to death in a warming world.
Watch the web event replay by clicking on the image below:
Watch the web event replay by clicking on the image below: