We're using GPS trackers to expose illegal logging in the amazon

Posted by Richardg — 15 October 2014 at 1:39pm - Comments

My colleagues - and friends - in Brazil spent two months placing GPS trackers on illegal loggers in the Amazon. It's dangerous - but it helps us expose their crimes to the world..

Greenpeace activists in Brazil spent two months living amongst loggers near Santarém. Santarém is the centre of the logging industry in the Amazon. Timber from sawmills there is exported all over the world.



The team got to know the loggers well. If their trucks got stuck in the mud, they lent a hand to get them out. They ate with them, drank with them. But when the loggers looked the other way, they put handheld GPS trackers on their trucks.

Those GPS trackers showed us where the trucks went - and exposed a network of sawmills that receives daily deliveries of illegal timber stolen from the Amazon.

During the day, the trucks drove deep into the public forest - land owned by the government, where no permission to log has been granted. We photographed them parked up in clearing, surrounded by logs. As darkness fell, they drove back to Santarém to supply sawmills there.

They only carry timber on the roads at night to evade the police. One dead-end road - the PA-370 highway - carries an average of 80 trucks each night, all loaded with logs and all bound for Santarém.

Now there may be a reasonable explanation for why loggers are back and forth between illegal logging camps and sawmills at night. So we checked government records to see where these sawmills claimed the timber came from. Then we used satellite analysis to check those estates and find out how much logging was taking place.

We didn't find very much. In fact, at three of the five sites, we found no evidence of logging at all.

This is a common trick sawmills use to launder illegal timber - creating a fake logging estate to get paperwork that persuades buyers overseas to buy their illegal timber.

Although this story starts in Brazil, it often finishes up over here. Companies in Europe are buying timber from these sawmills. Yet European laws ban the trade in illegal timber.

As technology gets better, cheaper and smaller, it becomes easier for us to turn the tables on illegal loggers and expose their crimes to the world. It also makes it easier for us to expose their customers.

Companies trading in timber from the Amazon are taking a massive risk.

Either they take responsibility for the wood they're buying, making sure it's been harvested legally and sustainably, or they stop buying from high-risk regions like the Amazon. 

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