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The US oak project


Aim of the US oak project

The main aim of the US Oak Project is to build an easily scalable method to build a library of timber samples which can be used to the benefit of technologies which can be used to combat illegal logging and to verify that timber products are for legal sources.

The project aims to collect physical samples, such as cross-sections and leaves of oak trees, to assist in the development of forensic methods – stable isotopes, wood anatomy, metabolomics, and DNA-based technology.

The US Oak Project is part of a bigger drive funded by the US Forestry Service, USAid and The US State Department for Conservation and Water (Forestry) to build on results generated in previous research projects, particularly the GTTN project 2012-2015.

Timber authentication requires samples to compare against. Despite many timber specimen collections in institutes around the world, few are able to match the needs of research and delivery of timber authentication.

As well as building the reference dataset, the project will also explore the management of supply chain violations, as future timber authentication will need to understand how to deal with results that contradict chain-of-custody documentation.

The US Oak Project will also test a range of options in which the publicly funded reference build generates both physical samples and analysis results that will be open-access – at least to the expert communities able to use them. Future projects will, by necessity, have to operate a continually renewing physical collection of samples of timber such that emerging technologies have access to standard samples of known characteristics.


Why US oak?

Normally, anti-illegal logging projects focus on a high-risk country and a protected species. However, as oak is so heavily traded, the risk retailers and product manufacturers might be using illegal oak is high. Oak forests around the globe are also beginning to come under protection of governments.

On the global market, there have been three main sources of oak:

  • Asian/Russian oak

  • European oak

  • American oak

National Forest Protection Program (NFPP) areas in China. Click image to expand.

Source: SFA (click here for source)

Due to significant deforestation in the Amur basin (northern China, Siberia and Far-eastern Russia) which endangered the Amur tiger and the Amur leopard, China has made a historic decision to cease logging in natural forests. The National Forest Protection Prgram (NFPP) was piloted in Heilongjiang province in northern China, but expanded at the end of 2016 to cover all natural forests in China (see image right).

In terms of the global timber supply, the fact that Chinese oak is becoming significantly limited means that companies that make furniture, flooring and decorations out of oak are having to look elsewhere to source raw material if they want it to be legal. Right now, many retailers are looking to use US oak in their products while still maintaining their manufacturing sectors in Vietnam and China.


Companies that use oak need a way to be sure that what they demand from their manufacturing suppliers is what they’ve specified. Developing a test that ensures the US oak in a wardrobe or bed, which can be sampled at any time, is actually from the US and not protected oak from China or Russia is vital to ensure the integrity and sustainability of their supply chains and combats illegal logging from the shop shelf.

Sampling video guide


For further information about how to take samples for the US Oak Project, we've made some videos explaining about the samples that should be obtained for the project.


If you would like to know more about timber origin analysis, or how Agroisolab verifies the origin of timber, have a look at our timber page where we explain the science behind origin testing in timber in more detail.

US Oak Project timber sampling - using increment bores and drills
US Oak Project timber sampling - cookies or cross sections

Types of sample to be collected

Oak trunk leaves and acorns

Sample 1.1

Cross section of the tree. Also referred to as a 'cookie' or a 'roundel'. The sample is obtained with a chainsaw.

Suitable for:

  • Stable isotopes

  • DNA analysis

  • Anatomical testing


  • Must be taken from a tree at least "8 (20cm) in diameter

  • Ideally 2 inches thick (1-inch minumum

Sample 1.2

Leaves from the oak tree still attached to the twig and placed in newspaper/ tissue to dry out.

Suitable for:

  • Anatomical testing / morphological analysis


  • Several leaves must be sampled still attached to the twig (minimum 2 leaves)

  • Must be taken from the same tree as the 'cookie' sample

Sample 1.3

Loose leaves from the oak tree to be placed into the sample bag (double sided CD case with silicon in one side, leaves go in the opposite side).

Suitable for:

  • DNA analysis


  • Minimum 2 leaves

  • Maximum 10 leaves

  • Must be taken from the same tree as the 'cookie' sample

General requirements:

  • All samples must be taken from the same tree

  • All samples must be labelled with the same sample number


Collecting samples

Chainsaw sampling

Chainsaw timber oak sampling

If a tree can be felled, and you are an experienced chainsaw operator, use a chainsaw to obtain the sample.


Choose a tree over 8” wide, fell the tree and cut a ‘cookie’ cross section across the trunk.


This is the ideal sample for many technologies as it shows the growth history of the tree, contains a living layer, and reflects the structure of the timber for the species.

Tools required

  • Chainsaw

  • Sample bags (e.g. large sealable freezer bags)

Chainsaw sampling sample bag oak

Leaf sampling

Oak leaves

Two types of leaf sample are needed to be taken. One for identifying the species of the tree/researching hybridisation of oak, the second is for DNA research., DNA and anatomical analyses benefit from having samples of both leaves and acorns (where it is possible to sample acorns).


Please take leaves from a tree that are still attached to the stalk/twig.


Place your sample for anatomical identification (sample 1.2, see above) in newspaper/tissue paper inside a sealable bag.


Place your DNA sample in the sealable bag with silica gel  (see sample 1.3, above).

Tools required

  • 20-30g silica gel for 2-3 leaves

  • Permeable bags (e.g. two-sided CD cases sealed with masking tape

  • Sample bags

Chainsaw sampling sample bag oak
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