Forest inventory, or timber cruising, has been long practised to evaluate the value of a forest concession, set sustainable harvest plans and determine potential fire hazards.
Inclusion of a genetic analysis of the biodiversity of tree species in a forest adds significant and long term advantages whether the forest is a legal concession being harvested, a National Park or REDD forest carbon scheme.
Timber cruising is a routine requirement for well recognised sustainably managed forests and should include species, diameter at breast height, height, site quality, age and defects. Building into this process the taking of wood samples for DNA testing is easy and a very marginal extra cost that over time delivers huge value for generations to come.
A concession with a genetic inventory permits the highest standard of product traceability. Downstream customers are able to pinpoint the location of harvest of timber products by comparison against the genetic inventory. Laundered timber products are excluded and independent auditing becomes significantly cheaper.
Other benefits of a genetic view of a forest concession includes improved planning and management with the insight of the biodiversity of species present. This can facilitate the sale of a concession or adaptation to risks such as pests or climate change.
Despite their protected legal status National Parks are still subject to illegal logging activity. The degree of this can vary from small scale and highly selective illegal logging to highly organised logging sometimes carried out under the guise of semi-legitimate practices.
A genetic inventory of at-risk timber effectively provides a DNA postcode for the commercially valuable trees. This means that illegally harvested trees can be traced in supply chains providing mechanisms for governance, including monitoring by independent civil society organisations and environmental NGOs.
Indigenous Peoples Rights
Often with Concessions or National Parks there may be an overlap with the rights of indigenous people living in and on the boundaries of a forest. For legality conditions to be maintained indigenous people are entitled to royalty payments from concession owners, or in National Parks they will wish to practice small scale and permissible logging activity.
Either way indigenous people not only stand to benefit from the governance advantages conveyed by a genetic inventory. It is now widely accepted that they play a key role in ensuring the preservation of forest ecosystems.
Community forest mapping exercises are an opportunity to include sampling for creation of a genetic inventory. The additional costs are marginal and the benefits last for generations to come.
REDD / Forest carbon schemes
Forest carbon schemes, most commonly REDD projects, seek to protect forest conservation areas by valuing the carbon and raising investment from the carbon offset and voluntary markets. This however does not guarantee that a conserved area will not be subject to illegal logging activity.
Any timber removed from a conservation area or REDD scheme represents a potential loss of future carbon earnings, undermining the programme and leading to fraudulently documented timber being introduced into the mainstream supply chain.
We sample a REDD scheme whilst the carbon methodology process is being undertaken – the process for estimating the “carbon value” of a forest. The focus is a genetic inventory of vulnerable high-value trees. It is then possible to subsequently identify stolen property at any point along the supply chain from sawmill through to factory and ultimately solid wood product in the end market.
This protects investors and other stakeholders in the project and represents the highest standards of due diligence and investor protection.
A relatively new Standard called the Global Conservation Standard (GCS) has written a genetic inventory element into it’s standard. As this market matures it is likely that more projects will see the value of genetic inventory as a standard approach to long term security for forest conservation areas.