This was a fascinating and disturbing topic to research.

I’d like to share my latest writing, published this week in Isthmus, Madison WI weekly newspaper.

The tree detective

Madison researcher leads charge against illegal logging


August 11, 2016





Alex Wiedenhoeft works on a mortar sample in his lab at the Center for Wood Anatomy Research.


In March 2014, Sri Lankan customs officials got a tip that valuable contraband was moving through the country’s port city of Colombo.

Authorities confiscated 28 containers of rosewood timber. Known for its even texture, high density and unique scent, rosewood is prized for making everything from furniture to musical instruments.

But many species of rosewood are endangered, and its logging and trading are heavily regulated. Sri Lanka’s location on a major shipping route between Asia, Africa and Europe makes it a hub of smuggled plants and animals.

The 3,669 logs authorities seized were valued at more than $7 million.

But there was just one problem: Sri Lankan officials weren’t quite sure if the wood they seized was an endangered variety or another that is legal for trade.

So they turned to Alex Wiedenhoeft in Madison, one of the world’s foremost forensic wood anatomists and a secret weapon in the fight against illegal logging.

Officials around the globe often seek out the help of Wiedenhoeft, who is the team leader of the Center for Wood Anatomy Research (CWAR) at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory on the UW-Madison campus.

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