FORT KENT, Maine — Forestry students from around the world now have an easier time distinguishing the forest through the trees thanks to a University of Maine at Fort Kent instructor’s Web site.
Jeffrey Dubis, UMFK instructor of forestry, designed his online wood identification study guide not long after he began teaching at the university and had noticed his students having difficulty identifying different wood species.
“I developed the study guide as an innovative way for students to learn to identify wood because I saw they were really struggling with that,” Dubis said. “I really wanted to find a way to help.”
Armed with a point-and-shoot digital camera, Dubis began photographing cross sections of wood and developing the guide.
While online guides did exist at the time with photographs and in-depth descriptions of species-specific characteristics, Dubis said none combined that information.
Accompanying each photograph on Dubis’ site is a write-up of each type of wood’s unique characteristics with arrows pointing to each one.
“I never saw a Web site where the identifying characteristics were pointed out like that before,” Dubis said.
Dubis was not surprised when his students began using the guide in their course work, but was stunned when he started noticing hits on the site coming from as far away as Iran, Croatia and Finland.
“Initially, this was just for UMFK students in the forest technology program,” Dubis said. “I’m amazed at how many other people around the world have found it.”
Dubis first created a downloadable PDF version of the guide, but after feedback from colleagues around the country, turned it into a standalone Web site.
Dubis has updated that original online version to include radial-tangential images in addition to the original cross-section images.
“Identifying wood is very different from identifying living trees,” Dubis said. “You can’t just walk into the forest and look at the bark and leaves.”
Instead, he explained, students must examine tiny features — some less than 1 millimeter wide — within the wood’s rings.
Just getting those photos can be difficult, Dubis said.
“It takes 20 to 30 photographs before I get a good one,” he said. “The softwoods are really difficult to get a clear shot of.”
It’s important for forestry students to get a handle on wood identification for those times when identifying lumber is done at a sawmill or yard after the trees are stripped of bark and leaves, Dubis said.
“In those cases there are no obvious identifiable features,” he said. “In trees like the maples the wood looks a great deal alike, but there is a huge difference in terms of value, so it’s important to know one from the other.”
About 30 species are shown on the site. Dubis hopes to keep expanding his site and noted he has a stack of a half-dozen species in his office waiting to be placed in the guide.
The guide may be seen at www.umfk.maine.edu/forestry/woodid/.