In all timber producing countries, rules and regulations exist which require that specific markings are placed on the ends of all legal logs. Companies involved in cutting or trading logs may place additional markings on log ends not required by regulations. Understanding these markings and being able to decipher them can be very useful when investigating illegality and tracing supply chains.
Log markings may take the form of tags, paint or ‘hammer-marks’ (where letters and numbers are pressed into the surface of the wood using a special hammer). Markings will commonly indicate the name and/or license number of the licensed harvesting area from which the log originated. They may also identify (by means of a code) the specific location within the concession where the tree was cut. In some cases they may even relate to an individual tree, whose stump is required to be labelled with the same code. The name of the company is rarely given in full, but is usually either the company initials or a code. Different markings are placed on log ends at different stages of the process of harvest, transport and export. Exported logs may carry additional markings or logos identifying the exporting company. Some mandated markings may only be added by officials, though companies are often given the responsibility, with occasional checks by officials.
In the simplest case, a lack of required markings may demonstrate that logs were illegally harvested. More often, the log markings can be used to trace logs back to a location where illegal logging has been otherwise documented. False log markings may also be used to launder illegal logs; they may be added to logs to begin with, or original markings may be removed and replaced. At a port in the DRC in 2013, for example, Greenpeace witnessed logs from an alleged illegal source having their ends cut off and new markings painted on. It may be possible for independent investigators to expose such practices, though to prove systematic fraud typically requires a level of access to logs and related documentation only possible for monitors with official mandates.