In today’s rapidly evolving society, you can find a cell phone in almost everyone’s pocket. Working at a toy store, I find it amazing how much people are glued to their devices. Even more amazing is that their children are borrowing their phones, and more common than not, they have their own phone to play with. When I was their age, I could only dream of such technology by pretending my folded-up juice box was a phone. So with everyone and their dog using a cell phone, why not give our trees this same luxury?

Agriculture drastically changes the look of Indonesia.
Agriculture drastically changes the look of Indonesia. Credit: Neil Franklin

The San Francisco-based company Rainforest Connection plans to protect trees by giving them cell phones — I hope the phones are hands free, or should I say branch free. The company plans to use old Android smart phones to monitor illegal deforestation in Indonesia’s rainforests. Over the last 25 years, Sumatra, an island of Indonesia, has lost more than half of its rainforest due to agricultural conversion. To put this loss into perspective, Indonesian rainforests represent a third of the world’s total rainforest. The deforestation is so severe that a May 2013 report by England’s The Observor reveals that scientists are worried that many of the area’s species will be extinct in 20 to 30 years since only fragments of the forest may remain. Enter Rainforest Connection’s old cell phones.

Sumatran orangutan.
Sumatran orangutan. Credit: Schristia/Flickr

As detailed by The Huffington Post, the company is testing technology that allows cell phones to be placed throughout threatened forests, they are left on to monitor forest sounds. If the phones pick up the sound of chainsaws where they shouldn’t be, they send a message to forest rangers. While cell phones can be expensive, the phone plans for these trees are much cheaper, costing less than three dollars a month. Powered by solar energy, one phone can monitor a third of a square mile. Currently, Rainforest Connection is doing a trial test of 15 phones in the Western Sumatra’s Air Tarusan Reserve in Indonesia, an area of the world with which American Forests is very familiar.

In the last decade, we have done multiple restoration projects in Indonesia to aid the threatened wildlife species, especially the endangered Sumatran orangutan. Since 2006, we’ve planted more than 100,000 trees in Sumatran to rebuild orangutan habitat. It is reassuring to know that the work we have done is being supported by other efforts, especially to curtail the rapid, and often illegal, destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests.