Oregon State University’s College of Forestry is the new home of a forensics lab that fights timber crime, a $1 billion annual problem for the United States’ forest products industry.

The Wood Identification and Screening Center was previously headquartered in Ashland as a partnership between the Forest Service International Programs office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory. Its move to Corvallis is the result of a $4 million, five-year grant from the United States Forest Service International Programs Office.

Scientists at the center use a specialized type of mass spectrometry for wood species identification to determine if a truckload of logs, a guitar, a dining room table or other wood products are what they are purported to be.

“We are thrilled WISC is here and eager to support their work to fight timber crime and identify illegal timber harvest and trade,” said Tom DeLuca, Cheryl Ramberg-Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry. “The illegal timber trade devastates livelihoods and ecosystems in Oregon and other parts of the country and world.”

WISC’s relocation to Oregon State allows the center to expand its work through collaboration with the College of Forestry while maintaining the partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new partnership with Oregon State will allow the center to expand its reference databases to help law enforcement confirm the species and origin of wood products.

As part of the center’s relocation to the college’s Richardson Hall, Beth Lebow, director of WISC for USFS International Programs, has moved to Corvallis. Two WISC scientists, Cady Lancaster and Kristen Finch, have also joined the College of Forestry faculty as assistant professors.

“Many people don’t realize the scale of global illegal logging and its massive economic and environmental impacts,” Lebow explained. “It deprives governments and the legitimate forestry sector of revenue, funds global criminal networks involved in horrible acts and human rights abuses, contributes to climate change and biodiversity loss, and deprives the world’s one billion forest dependent people of their resources and livelihoods. As wood forensic technologies and databases continue to improve, they can play an increasingly important role in identifying illegal wood in trade.”

Since the 2008 amendments to the Lacey Act, it’s been against federal law to import illegally obtained wood into the United States. Importers are required to declare the species and country of origin of the timber they bring into the country.

Wood identification technologies are needed to thwart importers who try to skirt the law by intentionally declaring the wrong species or the wrong place where the timber came from.

WISC uses a method known as direct analysis in real-time of flight mass spectrometry, abbreviated to DART TOFMS. Using just a sliver of wood, scientists can identify the genus and species in minutes.

Oregon companies will benefit from the expertise WISC offers as an added component to their Lacey Act due-diligence systems. WISC expertise will also support Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security and the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection System.

The center expects to become a training ground for scientists from universities, governments and other domestic and international partners.

“By being a service provider, trainer, and developer of wood ID methods that better meet law enforcement needs, WISC is helping the US and other countries use wood identification to verify the legality of wood products in trade,” Lebow said. “This ultimately helps combat global illegal logging and supports the viability and competitiveness of legitimate forest products.”

“WISC adds a critical new tool that we can employ to help Oregon’s forest products industry maintain global competitiveness,” said Eric Hansen, professor of forest products marketing and head of the College of Forestry’s Wood Science & Engineering Department. “The center also adds an exciting new element to our renewable materials bachelor’s degree program as students will have the opportunity to gain valuable work and research experience applicable to their future careers.”

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

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