Will Barcoding Trees Save Tropical Forests? (Video)

helveta tree barcodes image
Migrated Image

Image via YouTube screengrab

In tropical forests across South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, over a million hardwood trees have had plastic barcodes hammered into them, with the hope that IDing the trees will help with sustainable forestry practices and importation to countries like the US, as well as prevent illegal logging of the coveted hardwoods. Could going the grocery store route slow worldwide deforestation? Check out a video on how the technology works. Helveta is the company behind the plastic barcode technology. According to Reuters, the plastic barcode tags are hammered into trees and the local forest managers use handheld computer devices to scan the tag as soon as the tree is cut, uploading the information via satellite, wifi or any other internet connection to a secure database. The database tracks tree inventory, including new tags hammered into the stump and felled tree, and provides immediate access to inventory maps, management reports, and audit histories. Trees can then be tracked from their location in the forest all the way through the supply chain to its final destination, lending transparency to the process.

While it doesn't prevent trees from being cut down illegally, it makes it very difficult for anyone to get unmarked hardwoods through the process - any tree coming through without tags is viewed as illegally felled.

The effort hopes to prevent timber-producing countries the loss of over $10 billion worldwide that illegal logging represents. The technology is getting a solid try, with Helveta working on the technology and process for over 2 years, and recently receiving an additional $4.88 million in funding from investors.

Other efforts we've seen pop up to prevent illegal logging have been varied. Brazil, for example, banned banks from giving loans to illegal logging operations. Perhaps this technology could help the country battle deforestation. Its logging industry has upgraded to computerized ledgers, but has seen hackers falsify transportation permits that allow loggers to get their trees from one place to another in order to be able to fell more trees than legally allowed. This barcode tagging system might be just the extra piece of artillery needed.

GreenWood Global, the sustainable forestry and craftsman effort we recently covered, uses Helveta's technology in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve of Honduras:

Illegal logging not only harms forests, but also the ecological systems within the forests. From rare lemurs in Madagascar, to orangutans in Indonesia, diverse and precious wildlife is threatened when trees disappear.

Testing out technology as basic as plastic barcodes and scanners is certainly worth a try. With luck, it'll be effective to at least some degree.