Decision Support Tools

Timber buyers need to be able to verify claims about timber species and origin to meet their due diligence requirements. Similarly, enforcement agents need this information to help target oversight and control actions in the wood trade. However, untangling information about complex forest product supply chains is difficult and the technical ability to identify the species and origin of a wood product remains limited in most countries. FLI assists in the development of tools and resources to support supply chain management and works towards expanding the uptake of wood identification methods to support due diligence and law enforcement.

Wood Identification 

There are a range of scientific tests and analyses that can be applied to a wood sample to determine its species and harvest origin. Different methods are useful for different types of questions and applications. It is also useful to distinguish between screening methods and diagnostic identification methods. Screening methods are quick to apply, can help identify red flags, but may not be able to verify the species and harvest origin of a wood product. Alternatively, diagnostic identification methods can verify claims about the species and origin of a wood product if the appropriate comparative or “reference” databases exist.

Screening methods can include simple checks on shipment information, e.g., to identify mismatches between a reported country of harvest and the native range of a tree species. They can also include tools like machine-vision wood anatomy that compares a digital image of an unknown wood sample to a digital image reference database. Diagnostic identification methods can include using genetic analysis, stable isotope ratio analysis and mass spectrometry analysis to verify the species and/or origin of a wood product.

Though these screening and diagnostic identification tools are being used, they are not being employed at the scale necessary to realize their full impact. The main obstacles for broad application have been the lack of species and origin reference databases, and the often high testing costs and limited laboratory capacity. In 2020, WRI, Agroisolab, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, FSC and USFS International Programs formalized the World Forest ID consortium to overcome these obstacles.

The objective of the World Forest ID consortium is to collect georeferenced physical wood samples from forests across the globe and help build international analytic capacity whereby partner laboratories can assist in developing reference databases. World Forest ID partners have leveraged their international relationships to develop an innovative, efficient, and cost-effective approach to field collections and laboratory analysis. To date, World Forest ID has collected over 2500 georeferenced physical wood samples from over 280 species in close to 30 countries and provided the necessary material to chemical and isotopic laboratories for the development of species and origin reference databases.

    Open Timber Portal

    The Open Timber Portal (OTP) is a web platform that promotes compliance with legal requirements in timber harvest and trade.

    The OTP aims to serve as a one-stop shop for information on timber producers. It seeks to bring transparency to timber operations and improve access to country-specific information about forest management and harvesting, while increasing the effectiveness of regulations on illegal logging. It does so by making information about on-the-ground management practices and compliance with timber legality requirements public and accessible.

    The platform compiles information from four different sources:

    1. Governments’ official concession boundaries and list of registered timber producers
    2. Documents uploaded voluntarily by forest operators to demonstrate compliance
    3. Observations of suspected non-compliance from third-party forest monitors and NGOs.
    4. Data from Global Forest Watch on annual tree cover loss and weekly alerts on tree cover loss within the boundaries of the concessions

    Additionally, the OTP assesses performance of all timber producers against a standard set of documents and metrics, enabling market differentiation, complementary to certification. The platform currently covers the Congo Basin, but will expand to other regions as resources and opportunities allow.

    Decision Support Tools Partnerships and Activities

    • FLI works with scientists and government agencies in producer and import countries to drive the development of open-access reference databases for wood identification technologies.
    • FLI and partners are building a community of practice among wood identification professionals, government agency staff, and potential users of these analysis methods in the U.S. and other import and producer countries. The goal is to expand the community of scientists able to provide these services, while also sharing best practices and fostering collaboration.
    • FLI is working with partners to conduct research on intellectual property law as it pertains to wood identification technologies to develop a ‘best practices’ guide.
    • As part of the World Forest ID consortium, WRI chairs the Scientific Advisory Committee and leads on building global laboratory and enforcement capacity to assist in the uptake and utilization of wood identification tools.
    • FLI steers the development of the Open Timber Portal (OTP) in consultation with partners, donors and users
    • FLI oversees data collection and manages quality control on data uploaded on the OTP
    • In partnership with timber trade federations, FLI works with logging companies to train them on the OTP and encourage them to upload their compliance documents as well as with importers in consumer countries to train them on how to use the platform for their due diligence
    • FLI supports independent forest monitors in producing more high-level quality data, becoming more effective, more credible and more visible, thus increasing pressure on governments to enforce existing laws and improve regulations more effectively.
    • FLI works with government agencies in producer countries to explore how the OTP can support the deployment of national legality and traceability systems
    • FLI works with other organizations producing tools (for e.g., ATIBT, ZSL/SPOTT, NEPCon, ClientEarth, BVRio) to coordinate, develop synergies, and clarifies for users how to best use each tool


    Marie Vallee, Senior Associate - Open Timber Portal 
    Achille Djeagou Tchoffo, OTP Regional Coordinator Congo Basin - Open Timber Portal
    Sophie Labaste, Research Analyst and OTP Product Manager - Open Timber Portal
    Meaghan Parker-Forney, Science Officer - Wood Identification