Science can identify illegally logged timber – so lets start implementing

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 detailed understanding of the timber industry and supply chain dynamics.

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

Published by Prof Andy Lowe

Prof Andy Lowe is a British-Australian scientist and expert in plants and trees, particularly the management of genetic, biological and ecosystem resources. He has discovered lost forests, championed to eliminate illegally logged timber in global supply chains, served the United Nation’s Office of Drugs and Crime and is a lead author of the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – Land Degradation and Restoration report. He has helped secure a quarter of a billion dollars worth of research funding in his field and is an experienced and respected executive leader, board member, as well as mid-career mentor. Andy is a passionate science communicator, he has been Scientist in Residence at The Australian Financial Review and the Advertiser and is a regular author, speaker and podcast host.

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