8. Tracking logs from harvest to export

In 2014, following up on its detailed investigation into illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon, Greenpeace placed GPS locator beacons on logging trucks operating in Pará state. Pará produces and exports more timber than any other state in Brazil, with three quarters of logging estimated to be illegal. The beacons, or trackers, emit signals that can be detected remotely and tracked over time. They revealed that the trucks were travelling to remote public forests during the day and bringing timber to sawmills overnight. Cross-checking the locations with government maps revealed that no logging rights had been issued for the areas from which the trucks were taking logs. Reconnaissance flights by Greenpeace over the same areas enabled them to document a network of logging roads and illegal camps.

Greenpeace then checked the electronic records for the sawmills that were receiving the logs, and checked satellite imagery for evidence of logging in the stated source. They found that in many estates there was no sign of logging at all, and some only little. They concluded that the logging estates were being used as a front to provide the sawmills with paperwork, enabling them to launder illegal timber sourced in the public forests.

Used in this way GPS trackers can clearly be extremely effective, but the investment of time, expertise and level of risk undertaken by Greenpeace should not be underestimated. Placing the trackers on the trucks required building up a degree of trust and familiarity with truck drivers over a period of months. It should also be noted that the evidence was particularly effective because it was combined with other data, including permits, chain-of-custody data, satellite imagery and aerial photography.

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