WASHINGTON - Wood enthusiast Archie F. Wilson assembled the largest private wood collection in the United States in the 1940s and 50s. Now that collection, consisting of 4,637 wood samples, is being used to combat illegal wood trading around the world.
 
“Reliable wood identification is one of the fundamental challenges facing efforts to control illegal logging and associated trade,” says Charles Barber, director of the World Resource Institute’s Forest Legality Initiative. “If we don’t have basic information about species and geographical origin of suspected wood, it is difficult to detect, prevent or prosecute illegal loggers and traders.” 
 
On display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washingon D.C., the collection, used alongside new technology, will provide a powerful tool for customs agents, law enforcement, the judiciary, lawmakers and others grappling with the environmental, cultural and economic devastation caused by illegal logging and trade, says the Smithsonian.
 
The technology, called DART-TOFMS (Direct-Analysis in Real-Time Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry), applies a stream of heated helium ions onto the sample and quickly provides a full chemical profile. The person testing the wood simply has to hold a tiny sliver of wood in front of the ion beam to generate an analysis. It’s noninvasive, requires very little preparation and works nearly instantaneously if the sample in question is included in the database, says the Smithsonian.
 
“Illegal logging and associated trade is a cause of forest degradation, and is often a catalyst for complete conversion of forests to agriculture or degraded wasteland,” Barber says. “It also robs communities and governments of revenue, breeds and feeds corruption, and is increasingly linked to transnational criminal networks and trafficking in wildlife and arms, with a growing online presence.”
 
The World Wildlife Fund says illegal logging accounts for between 15 and 30 percent of all globally-traded wood. Up to 61 percent of all timber production in Indonesia is traded illegally, says the Fund, and 25 percent in Russia.