discussion / Wildlife Crime  / 9 November 2015

Ideas for tackling illegal logging with technology?

In Peru, the National Pact for Legal Wood was signed in December 2014 by five government agencies, indigenous peoples’ federations, the private sector, and nonprofits. Under this agreement,  parties committed to promoting trade in legal timber and to eliminating illegal logging in the country by 2021. Technology is being explored that can improve timber traceability and prevent illegally harvested wood from being passed off as legal. This includes attaching plastic tags to harvested logs with laserprinted QR codes that are smartphone-scannable. The QR code provides data on species, volume and geographic origin. What other tools exist that can increase transparency in timber supply chains?

This could be of interest.

Rainforest connection looks very promising. The basic idea is to deploy old cell phones with solar power arrays throughout an area, have them listen through their microphones, and use the collective data to figure out when and where vehicles and chainsaws are operating.

It does have some requirements that will limit the areas where it can be deployed. First it requires cell network coverage. Next, It probably works best in places that are dense with limited points of ingress so sensors can be judiciously placed. Finally, units should be able to be concealed in the environment to prevent detection. Although if a unit goes offline, that could be an indication that illegal actors are around.

Equipment used by The Prusten Project has the capability to listen in to logging practices in a manner similar to Rainforest Connection. The most interesting aspect about our project is it's capability to perform soundscape-level monitoring of forest ecosystems using tigers as our focal species. By recording tigers in controlled habitats (i.e. zoological institutions), we have found tigers can be identifed to the individual and sex just by their long-distance vocalizations. We are also working on determing factors which identify the weight, age, and mating status (females only) of an individual.

The "vision" is to be able to set-up recorders w/ solar arrays throughout a section of a forest and record everything which produces a sound. Not only would we be able to monitor tiger populations using this technology but we would also be collecting information on birds, amphibians, other mammals, and human activity. One piece of equipment could then be used for scientists and conservationists of every imaginable field, significantly cutting the cost, time, and intrusiveness associated with field research.

We currently utilize Songmeter SM2/SM3 and analyze our recordings "by hand" within Raven Pro. Algorithims could be developed to speed up the process of listening in as well as provide more automatic detection of certain variables such as illegal logging activity. 

The downside is the recorders we currently use are in the range of $500-$800 and relatively bulky in comparison to camera traps. However, researchers at Cornell University have been working on making a smaller, lighter, and cheaper recorder capable of long-term recording. I am not sure when this recorder will be available for general research but I have heard they were going to start field-testing it sometime this Fall. 

As a bonus, I have attached a photo of one of our SM2 recorders with a Sumatran tiger for scale. The cover has been removed to show the battery and memory card set-up.