Mobile phones can surf the Internet, take photos, play music and…protect forests

Man using smartphones to stop illegal logging (Courtesy of Rainforest Connection)
Rainforest Connection is using solar-powered smartphones to stop illegal logging. (Courtesy of Rainforest Connection)

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but timber thievery is thriving. Every year, swaths of forest the size of Panama are cut down. Some of the destruction is by small farmers clearing land to raise crops and livestock. The bigger problem is illegal logging — the harvesting, processing or trading of timber in violation of national laws.

All over the world people raid national parks at night, falsify forestry management plans so they can log in protected areas, and grow prohibited species of wood in order to cut them down.

The World Bank estimates that illegal logging costs close to $15 billion annually in lost revenue and royalties for governments. The practice leads to unsustainable economic development and undermines the welfare of the very people who depend on forests for their livelihoods. It threatens the biodiversity of wildlife. It fuels climate change by decimating trees, which absorb the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet. And the profits made from illegal logging may fund civil wars and organized crime.

Rainforest showing illegal burning (AP Images)
Millions of hectares of pristine rainforest are destroyed each year. The effects of illegal burning can be seen here. (AP Images)

But an ingenious use of mobile phones is helping to change the game. Smartphones placed in tree canopies and powered by solar panels can detect the sound of chainsaws from far away then alert officials to logging. Two weeks into Rainforest Connection’s pilot projectthese mobile phones have helped catch thieves. Learn more from L’Atelier about how recycled smartphones can track illegal logging.

You can help by looking for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification when buying wood products or participating in upcoming FSC events. Learn about the U.S. Forest Service’s international programs and ongoing activities around the globe.