The National Forest Planting Day took place in Russia this May. The volunteers planted millions of seedlings across the country, the total area of planting amounted to about ten thousand hectares. This campaign was dedicated to the promotion of environmental friendliness: the forest – is the lungs of our planet, and to take care of it – is a direct duty of all mankind...
Unfortunately, not everyone understands this. The illegal loggers destroy the trees, disrupting the balance of nature, and it fails to settle the issue of deforestation neither through the environmental law enforcement nor by strengthening the control on the part of law enforcement agencies... So what's to be done?
New methods are needed
The illegal logging occurs virtually all over the world, but we will consider the issue on the experience of Romania, where a timber fuels the black market and mafia-like structures with millions of Euros every year and healthy forests, untouched for decades, can be destroyed by illegal logging in the course of days. The main problem: the logs can't tell where they come from. The timber can't tell about its quality, whether it has been used before and how it was harvested…
However, the problem can be solved. With a chip-based tracking system the illegal logging could be prevented industry and worldwide. The food industry proved how it can be done. Frozen halve-carcasses of beef are tracked with RFID-chips in the global trade flows. Something similar has to be implemented in the timber industry – and it will start in Romania.
Holzindustrie Schweighofer, a company with 400 year long tradition in the forest area, which plays a leading role in the fight against illegal logging, will be a pioneer. Schweighofer buys close to 100 % of its logs delivered to the saw mill gates and is not involved in logging operations in forests. Even though the company fulfils all domestic and European legal requirements as well as all standards, it is evident, that this cannot exclude completely the purchase of illegally cut timber if someone of the supply chain from the forest to the mill gate is forging documents on purpose or is deliberately behaving in a criminal manner.
"Therefore fighting illegal logging needs new reliable methods beyond paperwork", the company emphasizes.
The information traveling with the log
According to the specialists of Holzindustrie Schweighofer and other independent experts, RFID-chip could be such an instrument. If everything goes well, then in the near future we will be able to see the following scenario. A Transylvanian forest worker picks up his chainsaw and harvests an approximately 100-year old spruce in a mature forest in the Carpathian Mountains. As soon as the noise subsides and the trunk rests on the ground, freed from its branches, the worker applies an RFID-chip. He registers the chip's ID with a smartphone that also records the GPS-coordinates of the stump left on its roots in the forest.
Just minutes later, a heavy built horse pulls the log carefully to the forest road. There it is collected with hundreds of other logs, loaded onto trucks and hauled to processing mills or traders. Thus the information travels with each log. The chip carries the exact coordinates of the harvesting site and it always tells, where the timber originates from. Saw mills, for instance, can easily prove that the delivered timber come from authorized logging sites.
A system in the scope of the PIL-RFID exceeds the possibilities of one company. Therefore it is necessary for the market players to join efforts for its implementation. According to experts, it's worth it, especially since the basic chips are inexpensive, vastly available and use standardizes technology. A reliable method to apply the chip to the log has to be developed. A possible procedure could be hammering a chip approximately 1 cm into both the front and the back end of the log. The application spot would be spray-painted to make it easier to find. When hammered into the log the surrounding wood will act as protection against shocks and abrasion.
The revolution in forestry
Holzindustrie Schweighofer is confident that worldwide implementation of the PIL-RFID system will be able to put an end to the illegal logging. It basically means that every log traded will be accompanied by information. The era of big data would begin and it might revolutionize the forestry. It would show in detail how much timber was removed where. Here are just some of the positive consequences of the PIL-RFID system implementation in the timber industry: saw mills will be able to identify the sites with the best quality for their needs, transport companies will use GPS data to minimize their transport costs – and with that the carbon dioxide emissions, detailed and abundant information of the removed timber will not only improve the quality of the forest management but will also boost the possibilities of forest research. It would allow for significantly better modelling of forests reactions to climate change and developing countermeasures against deterioration.
Finally, PID-RFID system relies on globally available and standardized technology. Given the ongoing worldwide penetration with smartphones, the GPS and NFC technology will be available everywhere where timber is harvested.