World Wildlife Fund Asks “Can Forensics Save Forests?”

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to investigate whether wood from products sold in the United States is accurately labeled. The forensic expertise of FPL botanist Alex Wiedenhoeft was key in this research, and the findings of the study were recently published in a journal article in PLOS One.

For an easily-accessible explanation of the research, check out this story from WWF. It’s full of great photos that give you a behind-the-scenes look into Alex’s forensic work and the world’s largest research wood collection, housed here at FPL in the Center for Wood Anatomy Research.

FPL botanist Alex Wiedenhoeft and his team in the Center for Wood Anatomy Research.
Photo credit: Jim Schnepf, WWF-US

Assessing Wood from Hurricane-Downed Trees in Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria made landfall in September 2017, the storm left hundreds of thousands of downed trees in its wake. Many of the trees were species with commercially valuable wood, but which ones?

A huge pile of logs from hurricane-downed trees in Puerto Rico.
Wood from hurricane-downed trees in Puerto Rico. Species identification was needed to decide how to best use or dispose of the material.

To find out, an assessment of the post-hurricane wood, stored at 21 different locations around the island, was requested by Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, or DNER. The Federal Emergency Management Agency supported this request through the Natural and Cultural Resources Recovery Support Function.  The Department of the Interior contacted the USDA Forest Service, and scientists Mike Wiemann of the Forest Products Laboratory and William Gould from the International Institute of Tropical Forestry developed an assessment of the species mix and log quality of the downed trees.

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World Wildlife Fund Features Work with FPL

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s leading conservation organization, featured a partnership with the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in their 2018 Annual Report.

The World Wildlife Fund’s 2018 Annual Report featured their partnership with FPL.

Since 2016, FPL’s Center for Wood Anatomy Research, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, World Resources Institute, and Simeone Consulting, LLC, has been working to establish data on product misrepresentation in the American consumer market for forest products.  In addition to asking questions about the presence and prevalence of product misrepresentation, the partnership also sought to document the availability, willingness, and capability of forensic wood expertise in the United States.  The full results of the study are under review by a peer-reviewed journal, and it is hoped that this pioneering work will be published soon.  In addition, WWF and FPL are looking to the future for further collaborative projects.

A link to the full WWF Annual Report can be found here. The project with FPL is featured second on the web page.

Supply Chain Sleuths: Partnership Helps Preserve Integrity of Certified Forest Products

Recent action by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) to suspend a major charcoal producer in Europe is one outcome of the FSC and Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) partnership. This collaboration aims at using forensic wood science to investigate supply chainsAlex C. Wiedenhoeft, Research Botanist and Team Leader in FPL’s Center for Wood Anatomy Research (CWAR), has led the CWAR side of a multi-year, award-winning research cooperation between FSC and FPL. Wiedenhoeft and his team conducted the forensic analysis of the contested charcoal.

Specimens of lump charcoal displayed on a specimen submission form.

At issue was whether charcoal appearing on the retail market with the FSC label was in fact sourced from FSC-certified forests.  “Working with investigators within the FSC supply chain integrity team, our forensic results about the botanical origin of the charcoal showed that the species composition of the charcoal was or was not consistent with the species claim,” said Wiedenhoeft.  “As with most forensic applications of botany, the bulk of the work is done by the real-world investigators, whether law enforcement or industrial auditors. Forensic wood science steps in at the evidence analysis phase to give the investigators solid data to inform their investigation.”

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