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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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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Forensic Botany Hits the Airwaves: FPL Scientist Gets Radio Play

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) research botanist Alex Wiedenhoeft took the spotlight on a recent segment of Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Larry Meiller Show.

Wiedenhoeft, team leader in FPL’s Center for Wood Anatomy Research, shed some light on forensic botany and how wood can help crack a case. Continue reading

Front Page News! FPL's "Tree Detective" is Cover Story Material

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) botanist Alex Wiedenhoeft has a fascinating career. Whether he’s using forensic botany to aid law enforcement, finding new ways to extract DNA from wood, or fact-checking certified wood products, he always has an interesting story to tell.

Isthmus, a weekly newspaper here in Madison, Wisconsin, agrees, and featured Wiedenhoeft and his work to curb illegal logging as this week’s cover story.

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FPL botanist Alex Wiedenhoeft

If you thought illegal logging was just a problem affecting trees and forests, think again. The article explains that “when law enforcement agents capture a shipment of illegal timber, they also often find illegally captured wildlife, illegal drugs, weapons and slaves” and that “revenue from illegally harvested timber has been linked to armed conflicts around the world.”

To find out how Wiedenhoeft works to combat these disastrous consequences, and learn about some of the wild cases he’s worked on over the years, read the full article at Isthmus.com.