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Stopping illegal wood imports at US ports

FLORIDA — In late January, the International Programs office facilitated a two-day wood identification training in Miami, Florida, for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service botanists from across the eastern United States. The objective of the training was to improve APHIS capacity to screen wood products that are harvested or traded illegally.

APHIS botanists are often asked by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to identify forest products, even though wood identification may be outside the scope of their expertise. Over the course of the training, Dr. Mike Wiemann and Dr. John Hermanson of the Forest Products Lab, as well as Dr. Cady Lancaster of the International Programs office, taught the APHIS botanists about wood anatomy and chemistry techniques that can be used to distinguish wood types. The sessions focused on characteristics of the Dalbergia (rosewood) genus. These woods are very important to the musical instrument industry and are now regulated under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.

Photo: Group of men gather around one who is demonstrating use of a tool to identify wood. They look over his shoulder as he points to something on a laptop screen.
Trainers demonstrate use of the xylotron, a field-based tool for wood identification that the Forest Products Lab developed with support from the International Programs office and the U.S. Department of State. Forest Service photo by Cynthia Mackie.

Forest Service and APHIS participants also discussed strategies for better screening of violations of the Lacey Act, which bans trade of illegally sourced wood regardless of species. In addition to leading hands-on wood identification exercises, the Forest Service team presented other tools and resources available to the APHIS botanists, including online reference databases of wood characteristics.

Prior to the Miami workshop, the International Programs office facilitated a similar training in Los Angeles, California, for APHIS botanists of the western United States.