Researchers Rich Cronn and Laura Hauck with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station developed DNA forensic protocols to evaluate bigleaf maple wood products so that tree DNA is admissible in court. The U.S. Department of Justice used their work to successfully prosecute the illegal harvest of bigleaf maple from the Olympic National Forest. The researchers are expanding forensic tools for other high-value targets of timber theft by collaborating with federal law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations, and citizen scientists to build genomics databases for the species most frequently targeted by timber thieves.
Cronn and Hauck are also exploring other applications for using wood and leaf DNA. For example, this method can determine if trees are clones or genetically different. This information aids in seed collection, enables better tracking of trees grown in breeding trials, and can be used to identify sources of nonlocal trees planted during large-scale reforestation that followed the Hebo and Tillamook Burns in the Oregon Coast Range in the early 20th century.