Last month, C. F. Martin & Co. hosted the Fifth Bi-Annual Wood Summit at its Nazareth, Pa., headquarters, convening members of government, nonprofit groups, and industry leaders to discuss a range of subjects related to wood sustainability and environmental stewardship. Among the topics covered: CITES (pronounced si-tees, the international agreement known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and its domestic counterpart the US Lacey Act, chain of custody DNA tracking, and sourcing of alternative materials. AG checked in with one of the event’s facilitators, Michael Dickinson, Martin’s exotic, alternative, and sustainable wood sourcing specialist, to learn more.

“This year’s Wood Summit was interesting because it was the first time we did not have a theme,” Dickinson told me by email. “Letting the speakers talk about the subjects of their choice allowed for a more frank and open discussion of today’s most impactful subjects.”

Not surprisingly, Dickinson cites the world’s various regulatory policies—the Lacey Act, the EUTR (European Union Timber Regulations), and others in Australia and (coming soon) Japan—as having the most significant impact on today’s guitar-building industry, not to mention the international restrictions posed by CITES.

“One can imagine the amount of paperwork required for several different governmental bodies, for the exact same information, can be quite daunting to all of us in this industry,” Dickinson notes. “My hope is that events like ours will help us understand why the information is collected, what each agency uses the information for, and how it relates to sustainable forest practices worldwide. As much as I complain, if all it takes is me completing forms . . . to stop some guy in Brazil from cutting down a rosewood tree illegally, I will happily complete the paperwork until my fingers fall off.”

Dickinson is hopeful that DNA tracking will play a major role in guarding protected timber. “I imagine the day when I say, ‘Sorry, sir, I can’t buy your lumber, because its DNA fingerprint matches that of wood from Nigeria, not Cameroon.’ Who knew that every tree has its own sequences, just like us humans? Or who would have ever thought you could match a tree to a guitar built in the US?”

Saving the rainforests, Dickinson believes, will require a mix of new plantations along with new technology. For example, Dickinson is excited about newly developed methods of chemically modifying softwoods to produce materials on par with natural hardwood timber. By being able to control factors such as density and color through this treatment, the versatility of responsibly harvested softwoods can be greatly expanded. “Think of the possibilities,” Dickinson says. “Thousands of applications from one species. It is mindboggling and exciting to consider how many old growth forests could be saved by this process.”

Dickinson also shared the story behind Martin’s kiln in Guatemala. “By purchasing mahogany from the Mayan biosphere,” he notes, “not only could we track the tree back to the forest, the whole forestry plan in that area allows small villages to reap the benefits. They are building schools and a solid infrastructure, and our Martin Guitar kiln is making it possible for them to have year-round employment. The coolest thing is it also helps preserve the Mayan ruins. By selectively harvesting in the biosphere around the ancient buildings, scavengers are less likely to pillage for fear of running into a logger.”

Also noteworthy from the Wood Summit was the presentation by the Maple Propagation Project. “What we are talking about here is basically cloning,” Dickinson says. “That is complete and total sci-fi movie stuff. While I do not understand the technology, as a guitar-building and wood aficionado, I think being able to have a constant supply of figured maple is very exciting. But even better, if we are that close to being able to clone wood, then we are even closer to me being able to get an actual light saber, and that would be awesome!”—by Marc Greilsamer, AG senior editor