Illegal logging destroys forests, disrupts ecological processes, increases CO2 in the atmosphere, and provides revenue for other illicit activities. 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 extensive DNA reference materials from high-value timber species.
Data That Drives Change
The outdoor community is well positioned to collect tree tissue samples from far-flung locations on a large scale across a species’ geographic range. These samples will be used to build genetic reference libraries for high-value, commercial timber species across the globe. The developed libraries will enable scientists to identify the species and origin of traded wood products and aid customs officers in the forensic validation of a suspicious shipment. This will help officers enforce illegal logging legislation, empower responsible buyers, and thwart 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 10% 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 recruiting, training, and managing volunteers to gather tree tissue samples which geneticists from DNA4 Technologies and New Mexico State University will use to develop the genetic reference libraries.
The first phase of this project is focused 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 the spring of 2018, we called hikers, backpackers, and sea kayakers to action. After training, volunteers collected bigleaf maple samples such as leaves, seeds, or tree cores from select sites in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
Stay tuned for future opportunities.