A man from Indiana was arrested for the alleged theft of timber, including White Oak.

A load ticket collected during the investigation reportedly shows the sale of White Oak logs to a Kentucky maker of whiskey barrels.

The cooperage, according to its website, is one of the world’s largest producers of whiskey barrels. It makes White Oak barrels for major whiskey brands.

White Oak (Quercus alba) is a preferred species by the whisky industry for a number of reasons including its ability to keep fluids from leaking, chemistry, and flavor.

Location of illegal purchase and theft of timber in Bedford, Indiana. Source: Timber Risk Map

Oak and the illegal timber trade

In the U.S., the Lacey Act makes it unlawful to sell or acquire wood that has been taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of U.S. law.

Despite laws intended to prevent the illegal harvest and trade of wood, illegal wood remains common in markets, and often in large quantities.

See: Lookout Mountain timber theft caught by hidden camera trap

European Oak (Quercus robur) is another preferred species for whiskey barrels. About 3,000 cubic meters recently entered international markets illegally.

European Oak logs illegally shipped to China from Krasnador. Photo: Krasnodar Customs

Illegal wood devalues forests

Managing land for timber production has been, and will continue to be, an effective forest conservation strategy.

See: When logging in the Amazon is greener than U.S. timber harvests

On the other hand, the trade in illegal wood is a major barrier to sustainable forest management.

For example, in this case from Indiana, the logger allegedly did not pay for some of the timber. With a lower cost timber, the logger can sell his timber at prices below his legal competitors. This makes managing timber less profitable, and creates a headwind for good forest management. It also means that landowners receive less money for their timber, making forests a less attractive investment.

Asking your bartender whether the whiskey was aged in barrels of legal White Oak timber isn’t going to stop illegal logging. But wood buyers who care about the supply chains they support can start by asking their suppliers on simple question: where in the forest did this wood product originate?

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