American Long Distance Hiking Association - West

Adventure Scientists - Timber Tracking Project

26 Jun 2018 7:12 AM | Kate Hoch (Administrator)

Timber Tracking Project

Illegal logging destroys forests, disrupts ecological processes, increases CO2 in the atmosphere, and provides revenue for other illicit activities. Port officials, law enforcement officers, corporations, and everyday consumers need new tools to disrupt tainted global supply chains. Cutting-edge genetic technologies can help, but in order to do so, they will require extensive DNA reference materials from high-value timber species.

Data That Drives Change

The outdoor community is well positioned to collect tree tissue samples from far-flung locations on a large scale across a species’ geographic range. These samples will be used to build genetic reference libraries for high-value, commercial timber species across the globe. The developed libraries will enable scientists to identify the species and origin of traded wood products and aid customs officers in the forensic validation of a suspicious shipment. This will help officers enforce illegal logging legislation, empower responsible buyers, and thwart dishonest harvesters in the illegal timber trade.

Why Care About Timber Theft?

Timber theft is a pervasive global issue with grave ecological, economic, and social consequences. It is estimated that 15-30% of all wood on the international market has been illegally sourced.

When a tree is stolen, we lose far more than something nice to look at. Trees provide habitat for countless species, stabilize soil, and shade streams. They also sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Chopping them down both halts conversion of CO2 to oxygen and releases stored carbon as discarded roots and crowns decay. Together, legal and illegal deforestation account for around 10% of global carbon emissions.

Governments and responsible timber producers lose tens of billions of dollars of revenue annually to the illegal timber trade. Timber theft has been tied to organized crime, corrupt military actions, and the violation of indigenous rights.

What We're Doing About It

In partnership with the World Resources Institute, Adventure Scientists is headed into the field to gather tree tissue samples which geneticists from DNA4 Technologies and New Mexico State University will use to develop the genetic reference libraries.

The first phase of this project will focus on the bigleaf maple, a towering hardwood that grows along the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada. Because about one in 20 bigleaf maples possesses an incredibly beautiful wood pattern, these trees are targeted by timber thieves for their high value in the guitar and furniture trade.

In spring of 2018, we will be calling hikers, backpackers, and sea kayakers to action. After training, volunteers will collect bigleaf maple samples such as leaves, seeds, or tree cores from select sites in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

After establishing the reference library for bigleaf maple, we will then expand to other species around the world.

What You Can Do Next


Illegal logging erodes biodiversity, exacerbates climate change, and bankrolls political corruption. Law enforcement officers, corporations, and consumers require new tools to trace wood products back to their points of origin. Cutting-edge genetic technologies can help, but in order to do so, they will require extensive reference materials from high-value timber species.

As an Adventure Scientists volunteer, you can provide these currently unavailable samples and help unlock the potential of DNA-based technologies to combat illegal logging.

2018 Field Season:
Bigleaf Maple in Pacific North America

The first season of this project is focused solely on collecting samples from bigleaf maple trees along the Pacific coast of North America. We are seeking two tiers of volunteers: leaf crew and wood crew. Both crews require dedication and attention to detail, but because wood crew volunteers will collect several types of tree samples (as opposed to only leaves), these volunteers will need to commit more time to training and sampling over the spring/summer season.

To volunteer for either crew, you will need to:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Live in or be traveling extensively within California, Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia in Spring-Summer 2018.
  • Own or have access to an iPhone 6 or Android equivalent (or later generation smartphone) for data collection.
  • Complete online training and pass a quiz to demonstrate mastery of the protocols.
  • Embark on quick roadside jaunts or multi-day expeditions, depending on your location within the range of bigleaf maple.
  • Collect a target number of samples across a specific geographic zone and mail these samples to Adventure Scientists.
  • Follow all safety, permitting, and scientific protocols.

Timing and Locations

The field season is now active in all regions:

  • Southern California
  • Northern California
  • Oregon
  • Washington & British Columbia

We are actively seeking motivated volunteers in all zones outlined in red on this map.

Updated Map Link

Grey zones are those in which a volunteer for the Leaf Crew has been accepted and completed training. (You may still apply as a back-up volunteer in a grey zone.)

Project end dates will vary according to local conditions, but you can expect that sampling in all zones will wrap up in September.





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Adventure Scientists
PO Box 1834, Bozeman, MT 59771

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