Friday, June 20, 2014

All eyes (and ears) on the forest: get the chainsaws outta there

 We came upon a little startup company the other day called Rainforest Connection. (  They are trying to get funds to turn recycled cell phones into solar listening devices that can be hidden in the forest and can detect chainsaws (illegal logging) from up to 1k away. Their pilot project was in western Aceh.

In 2011 JMD was asked by Fauna and Flora International ( to develop the direct community support component of their 5-district community forest ranger project, which trained men from the districts surrounding the forest to work as conservation officers.  The object was to have the Aceh government’s department of forestry accept these officers onto the payroll after the two-year project ended.   Well, we all know how that worked—day by day the administration grows less and less fond of spending any money for forest protection. 

But I introduced these two agencies to each other, with what I think was some success.  Rainforest Connection was delighted to find a local colleague/partner in Aceh (they plan to distribute the devices in Africa and South America as well), and FFI staff were impressed by the technology and thought that it might be quite useful in Myanmar, if cell phone coverage costs could be kept down.

Sadly, what everyone agreed on was that even with the combined efficiency of good rangers and chainsaw detection, which allows rangers to catch loggers in the act—the fear of violence and reprisal, combined with the government’s refusal to back up its conservation officers with convictions and fines/jail time, means that Aceh still can’t get out of its own way to save its forests.

ZSL Living Conservation also has a similar citizen-based technology, called “Instant Wild” ( that it is pioneering in Kenya.  These are all wonderful and exciting innovations . . . . but they are all useless unless government officials stop being the lapdogs of the extraction interests that hire the majority of the illegal loggers, who thanks again to the administration have very little alternative if they want to keep their families fed.

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