Douglas-fir wood at 57x magnification. Chemical analysis shows that Douglas-fir wood from different geographic regions has distinct chemical “fingerprints,” which can be used to identify the geographic origin of the wood.
Photo courtesy of Edgard Espinoza.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the U.S. Lacey Act provide protection for tree species that are at risk of over-exploitation. Despite requirements for taxonomic and geographic verification, shipping declarations for illegally harvested wood can be falsified, leading to declines in regional forest quality and biodiversity, and significant annual losses in revenue (about $10 to 15 billion) to governments and businesses. Chemical and DNA-based identification have the potential to be used as demand-side tools for validating claims of species or geographic origin of wood. Rich Cronn, a research geneticist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, and his colleagues at Oregon State University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are evaluating time-of-flight mass spectroscopy and genetic screening as methods for identifying the taxonomic and geographic provenance of wood. They conducted pilot studies focused on Douglas-fir trees from the Coast and Cascade Ranges of the Pacific Northwest.
They found that by using chemical fingerprints the geographic source of Douglas-fir wood can be accurately determined for 75 percent of samples. Chemical analysis takes seconds to perform, making it a promising “rapid screening method” for evaluating claims of geographic provenance for wood. By combining chemical and genetic data, higher precision taxonomic and geographic source identification should be possible. This technology is being adapted for economically important trees that are the targets of illegal logging activity.