A Lojack for Lumber? The Amazon Rainforest’s New SOS Signal

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Lunae Parracho/Reuters

The remains of virgin Amazon rainforest are seen after it was cleared for its wood along the PA 150 highway near Moju, Para State May 26, 2012.

What do you do when illegal loggers are getting away with deforestation? Fit the trees with tracking devices of course. This is the new plan announced by Brazilian authorities in an attempt to tackle the issue of illegal logging and deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon.

Trees will be fitted with a tracking unit, Invisible Tracck, a device that is smaller than the size of a deck of cards. The discreet gadget, developed by Brazilian firm Cargo Tracck and piloted by Dutch digital security firm Gemalto, connects with cellular networks in the region to send out regular location updates.

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In the event that a tree is cut down — and provided it is within 32km of a cellular network — the device will use its sensors to send an alert to the rainforest protection agency Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente (IBAMA). The devices have been designed to withstand the Amazonian climate and have a battery life of up to a year, according to Gemalto.

“The rainforest in Brazil is approximately the size of the Unites States so it’s impossible to monitor each and every acre,” said Ramzi Abdine, the general manager of the subsidiary of Gemalto responsible for the instrument.

While the device may not do much for prevention, authorities are hoping that it will allow enforcement agents to respond in real time; by figuring out which sawmills the loggers have taken the lumber to, authorities hope to prevent the illegal sale and profit from it.

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Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest continues to be a pressing issue, though recent figures from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research indicate that it is at a record low since monitoring began over 24 years ago. Despite the apparent decline in deforestation rates, some 4,600 square miles of rainforest have been lost in one year.

The move to fit trees with these tracking devices is part of a series of recent technical innovations to combat illegal logging: last year a local Amazonian tribe began using geo-tagging on Google Earth to highlight the extent of illegal logging in Brazil.

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