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PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER)
Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)


A wood species identification tool to aid in compliance and enforcement of Peruvian timber regulations

PI: José Ugarte (jugarte@itp.gob.pe), Instituto Tecnológico de la Producción - CITEmadera
U.S. Partner: Michael Wiemann, U.S. Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory
Project Dates: January 2020 - December 2020

Project Overview:
 
8-161 Wood Identifier Demo
A member of Dr. Ugarte’s project team demonstrates the use of the XyloTron in identifying a wood sample.
Illegal harvesting of trees ranks third in international crimes, causes up to 70 percent of deforestation, and costs billions of dollars in lost revenue annually (WWF, 2019), and Peru has been severely impacted. Many of the traded woods are high value species that are considered endangered by the Peruvian government (Resolución Ministerial Nº 0505 – 2016 – MINAGRI, 2016). In the case of Cedrela odorata and Swietenia macrophylla, they also are already included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Law enforcement agencies have been mandated to develop strategies that curb this activity, but the ability to identify species accurately is limited to a few specialists worldwide. This situation is amplified in Peru due to the large number of commercial species, giving rise to a need for regulators to be familiar with the diverse anatomical characteristics and the numerous species that look similar. Species identification has been reported to be the limiting factor in enforcing compliance with national and international laws regarding the legal harvesting of timber. Training in wood identification and the development of tools to aid in wood species identification are needed by an expanding international community within public and private organizations. Therefore, the aim of this PEER project is to empower Peruvians in the enforcement of Peruvian environmental laws by implementing a field-deployable wood identification machine vision technology, XyloTron. The Wood Technological Innovation Center (CITEmadera), a government entity linked to the Technological Institute of Production (ITP) and a partner in the Peruvian timber sector, will be responsible for executing this project. The U.S. and external partners will consult on the acquisition and curation of the botanical samples, production of XyloTrons in Peru, and model building for the new species in the machine learning classifier. They will also provide assistance during field deployment.

The implementation of the XyloTron identification system for the 15 most important Peruvian tropical timbers should have many positive impacts in the forestry sector of Peru. The country is going through a difficult period due to conflicts between trade and forest resources conservation, and monitoring and enforcement operations for illegal timber need to be reinforced. Enforcement tasks are concentrated primarily at 40 active control points and the exportation ports, where the timber is inspected, with species identification being a key element. However, wood identification requires much knowledge and expertise, and neither Peru nor the rest of the world have enough of the necessary specialists to meet these needs. This PEER project will implement the XyloTron system as the key to improving the capability of wood identification at control points and ensuring legal harvest and trade. As part of the project objectives, CITEmadera will also transfer this technology to Peruvian government institutions responsible for the control of illegal timber so that they can test its effectiveness and integrate it in their workflow. In addition, the equipment of the XyloTron system will be available for further investigations of Peruvian wood species, and the PEER team will provide the necessary training. All of these actions should help Peru better manage its legacy of precious wood and contribute to the global effort to combat the illegal timber harvest.

Summary of Recent Activities:

8-161 2020 Site Visit
PI Dr. José Ugarte (second from right) and his team welcome Lina Stankute-Alexander of NAS and Dr. Lily Sweikert (facing one another at center) during their visit to CITEmadera in January 2020.
Although this project officially began as of January 1, 2020, bureaucratic delays associated with acceptance of the grant agreement by the PI’s institution and establishment of a project account for the incoming funds pushed back the actual start of activities into February. Dr. Ugarte and his team have focused first on laying a solid foundation for cooperation with their U.S. partners and various stakeholders. Beginning even before the grant agreement was finalized, they have held biweekly videoconferences with primary U.S. partner Dr. Michael Wiemann and co-partner Dr. John Hermanson, the creator of the wood identification XyloTron. Discussions have centered around the methodology for sample collection and preparation, as well as the technical characteristics of the equipment to be purchased. As for stakeholders, Dr. Ugarte and his colleagues met with the National Forest and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) and the Agency for Supervision of Forest and Wildlife Resources (OSINFOR), which have formally expressed their commitment and stated their interest in participating in field identification tests using the equipment once developed for Peruvian woods. They also provided a list of the most important wood species in their activities, which has served to validate and update the list of species to be covered in the project. Other meetings were held with five forest companies who plan harvest activities during this year. They have expressed their willingness to facilitate entrance to their forests through letters of commitment, and they are actively participating in coordination with the project team to date. The project team has worked out the logistics and costs to be incurred for sample collection efforts and have defined with the companies the scope of the support they will provide with regard to available field staff and transport of samples. Another meeting was held with staff from the Herbarium of the La Molina National Agrarian University (UNALM), an institution widely recognized for its experience in botanical identification. The Herbarium will identify the wood samples after they are collected. Work is under way to establish an inter-institutional agreement, and as of mid-April the draft was under reviewed by both parties.


The coronavirus pandemic and strict national lockdown requirements instituted in Peru in March have understandably caused additional delays in implementation of this project, including in the procurement of equipment and the organization of a planned launch event in coordination with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Although the procurement staff at PI’s institution is working from home, the vendors selling the items needed are shut down for the time being. In addition, Dr. Wiemann and Dr. Hermanson were supposed to visit Peru in June 2020 to take part in sample collection and provide technical assistance in the construction of replicas of the XyloTron device. Their travel has been postponed indefinitely, pending the lifting of travel restrictions and an improvement in the virus situation that would ensure the safety of project participants.


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