Will Barcoding Trees Save Tropical Forests? (Video)

man placing barcodes on cut helveta tree

Migrated Image / YouTube Screen capture

In tropical forests across South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, over a million hardwood trees have had plastic barcodes hammered into them. The IDing process is hoped that the tags will help with sustainable forestry practices and importation to countries like the US. It is also hoped it will prevent illegal logging of the coveted hardwoods.

Could following the grocery store route ID process slow worldwide deforestation? Check out a video on how the technology works. Helveta of Oxfordshire U.K. is the company behind 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. The process 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 from 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.