Wood Identification

iStock.com / Vulkanov
Barren forest with choppped tree trunks
iStock.com / Vulkanov

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and its partners can use scientific techniques, including isotope testing and genetic mapping, to pinpoint where – within a few kilometres – a specific piece of wood originates from. In this way, FSC is working to stop illegal logging and ensure that the wood used in the supply chains of FSC-certified products originates from legitimate sources. 

Woman in lab coat making a mixture in a flask
iStock.com / Liudmila Chernetska

The Chemistry of Wood

Every living organism is made up of a combination of elements, arranged in intricate formations to create both form and function. In different conditions, some of these elements could be altered slightly to form isotopes, giving the organism a chemical signature, shared only by its closest geographic neighbours of the same species. Likewise, every living organism has its own unique genetic makeup. Using both isotope testing and genetic mapping, scientists are able to pinpoint – within a few kilometres – where the wood being tested came from, as well as the Genus, family, and sometimes species of the tree. 

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Microscope being used to review sample
FSC Denmark / Loa Dalgaard Worm

WorldForestID

Since 2011, FSC has increasingly made use of wood identification technologies. New technologies have made it possible to determine where wood has been harvested from. FSC, U.S. Forest Service, World Resources Institute, Agroisolab, and Kew Gardens have joined forces to launch the WorldForestID project, which has set out to build the world’s largest database of geo-referenced wood samples from all regions of the world where illegal logging is an issue. This database will help in exceptional cases where wood identification is needed to assess questionable origins.  

For more information on this project, please email fiber-testing@fsc.org

Fallen wooden logs stacked atop each other
iStock.com / YouraPechkin

How Does That Help to Stop Illegal Logging?

Trading in timber is big business. Many companies do it responsibly and according to the law. However, there are some that cut down trees indiscriminately – and often illegally. Being able to trace where a wood product originates allows buyers, sellers, and traders to ensure the products they buy are really what they claim to be.  

Find out how it works by listening to this BBC World Service broadcast 

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