Celebrating the great outdoors

Fighting Illegal Logging with Your Cell Phone

Courtesy of Rainforest Connection 

Illegal logging accounts for up to 30 percent of all timber traded worldwide, harming communities, undercutting American jobs, and increasing carbon pollution. With criminal operations moving deep into remote areas of forest, fighting back may seem impossible. However, a new startup is proving that it’s possible to fight illegal logging with used cell phones. Rainforest Connection, based in California, has partnered with the Zoological Society of London to develop a real-time monitoring system that will be deployed in vulnerable African forests.

So how does the monitoring system work? The company, Rainforest Connection, recycles used Android cell phones, then powers them with a unique solar array that can generate power in the shade - key to operating in the understory of a rainforest. The phones are then placed throughout a forest, generally high in trees to avoid detection, where they function as listening devices. Each device detects the sounds of chainsaws up to two-thirds of a mile away and relays the data to Rainforest Connection’s online system, which is able to pinpoint the location of the sound. Once the location is identified, an alert is sent to local officials responsible for policing illegal logging, allowing them to respond immediately.

Around the world, activists are turning to cell phones as a way to monitor and report illegal activity. For example, in Indonesia, farmers in remote villages have used phones to report illegal land grabbing and clearing. Going forward, there are many possibilities for using mobile technology to fight illegal logging, such as mapping deforestation and tracking illegal timber harvests.

Recycling used cell phones to combat deforestation is an encouraging development -- hopefully one that will be replicated and scaled up around the world. However, efforts to combat the act of illegal logging must be paired with efforts to curb the demand for illegally harvested timber from importing countries.

The United States is helping lead the charge against the illegal timber trade. The Lacey Act, a landmark conservation law, was amended in 2008, making it against the law to import illegally harvested timber. To learn more about the Lacey Act and how you can help stop the illegal timber trade, visit our website.

-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn