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.

Interestingly, a significant amount of “White Oak” circulating in the United States markets is imported.

Chart of U.S. white oak lumber imports 2019
Lumber categorized as “White Oak” entered the U.S. from 16 countries in 2019. View article.

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

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 forestland

Managing land for timber production has been, and will continue to be, an effective forest conservation strategy. In many cases, as evident in the figure below, the forest remains after logging (View interactive version).

satellite image comparison of timber harvest
Before and after satellite image comparison of timber harvest site. Source: TimberSat™

Buying good wood, and supporting legitimate supply chains, is good for forests. On the other hand, trade in illegal wood is a major barrier to sustainable forest management.

In this case from Indiana, the logger allegedly did not pay for some of the timber. With a cost of timber at zero, 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 aged in barrels of illegal White Oak timber isn’t going to stop illegal logging. But checking the forest origin of wood products before your purchase can help.

Concerned about legal risks in U.S. timber supply chains? Join TimberCheck™ or check the Timber Risk Map. Want to know where your White Oak lumber originated? Start a WoodFlow™. Curious what the forest looks like after the harvest, request access to TimberSat™.