Biodiversity Conservation

Science can identify illegally logged timber – so lets start implementing

But required first is an understanding of the timber industry and supply chain dynamics

Science  can  identify the source of timber and verifying legality. So it should be a simple case to apply the science to new international legislation that aims to limit illegally logged timber in global supply chains. Well not quite,  the application of  science requires understanding of the timber industry and supply chain dynamics. A new paper helps identify how science can help eliminate illegal logging.

In May 2014, the Member States of the United Nations adopted Resolution 23/1 on “strengthening a targeted crime prevention and criminal justice response to combat illicit trafficking in forest products, including timber.” The resolution promotes the development of tools and technologies that can be used to combat the illicit trafficking of timber. Stopping illegal logging worldwide could substantially increase revenue from the legal trade in timber and halt the associated environmental degradation, but law enforcement and timber traders themselves are hampered by the lack of available tools to verify timber legality.

A new paper outlines how scientific methods can be used to verify global timber supply chains. These methods, including wood anatomy, DNA and chemical methodsare capable of supporting timber law enforcement and compliance, but work is required to expand the applicability of these methods and provide the certification, policy, and enforcement frameworks needed for effective routine implementation.


The above is a schematic representation of the timber supply chain. Sustainably and/or legally harvested timber originates from appropriately managed logging concessions and is moved along the supply chain to log yards, saw mills, and processing plants. Products are then moved from processing to the point of sale or are exported for processing and reimported (often through multiple countries) before reaching the final point of sale. At each stage, illegally sourced timber products can enter the supply chain. A range of scientific technologies (visual, chemical, and genetic) exist that can be used to verify the legality of timber products at each stage of the supply chain.

This article was also published on Prof Andy Lowe’s research group’s blog

Prof Andy Lowe is a British-Australian scientist and expert on plants and trees, particularly the monitoring, management and utilisation of genetic, biological and ecosystem resources. He has discovered new species, lost forests, championed to eliminate illegally logged timber in global supply chains, served the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime and has been responsible for securing multi-million dollar research funding. He is an experienced and respected executive leader, as well as mid-career mentor. Andy is the inaugural Director of Food Innovation at the University of Adelaide serving as the external face for all significant food industry and government sectors across South Australia, and the world.

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