The First Tree

... and Sustainable Harvest in Guatemala

In March of this year, Tree Tag went on a very special mission, deep into the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in the Northern department of Petén, Guatemala. Working directly with regional forestry management companies, sustainable harvest experts, and a guitar company from the United States, we were there to enter the very first tree - a beautiful specimen of Caoba; a type of rich mahogany vital to the region - into our Tree Tag Generator application which is a front-end for our digital supply chain and traceability system.

Guatemala has the “gold standard’ when it comes to an existing paper-based traceability system for forest products. Legal community-based concessions are appointed land from which they can obtain licenses for the harvest of forest products in accordance with strict sustainability standards, licensing, and certification. Through the work of national government, NGOs, international oversight, and legislation - such as the Lacey Act in the US and EUTR in the European union - and through the hardwork and dedication of the community-based forestry cooperatives, Guatemala has established working model that the rest of the world can employ. 

In Petén, 25 years of responsible practices within the forest concession system have demonstrated increased growth of individual trees and healthy, productive forests that are being managed with great care. This system has supported ethical businesses which keep the management of natural resources in the hands of local communities and indigenous peoples, while providing stable income and a prosperity that allows them to further develop services and infrastructure in those very same communities. As well, it bolsters long-lasting relationships throughout the supply chain, fostering deeper trust and confidence in the parentage of the raw materials.

After assembling our team and working through logistics from our headquarters in Flores, our caravan traveled for several hours down deeply rutted muddy roads, passing inspection points with armed guards, penetrating deeper and deeper into the government-protected rainforest. At the rustic loggers camps - loggers are known as “Tumbadores” - the thatched roof huts and earthen floor provide the perfect setting for experiencing the incredible biodiversity of the dense forest canopy. Howler monkeys screech overhead, leaf-cutter ants ply their trade, and exotic flora and fauna abound in every direction. After a simple meal of freshly prepared tortillas, black beans, papaya, and strong coffee, we set off into the forest to take place in this very special event. 

To witness the care that goes into harvesting an individual tree will radically shift one’s perspective. The loggers employed great skill to ensure that even neighboring fruit trees - which local animals were dependent on for food- were spared destruction during the felling of the selected tree. They bring down the tree carefully in order to maximize the productive yield of these precious resources. Even still, it was a somber moment for all of us, as the beauty of this tree and its unique place in the forest permeated the immediate surroundings, and a in few moments, it would be harvested.

The rationale - put so eloquently by Spencer Ortiz - a regional legend, a sustainable harvest advocate, and staunch defender of the forest - was that this grand tree was making the sacrifice so that the forest as a whole could be managed effectively and remain productive for generations to come. There is a delicate balance in creating economic opportunities that encourage stakeholders to protect the forest from destructive interests. 

After the whirring and buzzing of the chainsaw come to an end, you can hear the last few metallic clicks as wedges are driven into the tree’s buttresses in order to direct the fall of the tree. All goes quiet for a moment, and then… it crashes majestically to the forest floor, streams of sunlight beaming in through the hole in the forest canopy, feeding the younger saplings. 

The Forest+ Generator now goes to work: Our app works by creating a one-time code - which is based on species, time, date, and physical location - that is be written on the trunk and stump of the tree. This same code will be used to track the tree - and its individual pieces of lumber - as it moves through the supply chain. The result is that customers of Bedell Guitars will be able track their product right back to the very community where the wood originated, right down to the logger that felled the tree, and to the parent tree itself. 

Companies such as Bedell are industry and thought leaders in the shift towards conscious consumption. Increasingly, responsible organizations and individuals such as these want to know where these precious resources come from. Forest+ provides a solution for exactly this purpose. 

Enhancing the value chain with digital traceability allows foreign suppliers and customers in the US / EU to easily adhere to legislation which puts the onus on businesses in validating parentage of their materials. It also makes it difficult to defraud the government with a bribe, a rubber stamp, and a blind eye. We live in an age where it’s no longer acceptable to claim plausible deniability where it concerns the traceability of precious raw materials. 

We are heading back to Guatemala in the next few weeks to witness the milling of these trees as they are refined into timber products. The guitars that will use this tree have yet to be created but trust that we will be proud to share the rest of the story with you as it continues. We will also be there to participate in the operating plan assessment for next year using our Forest+ Survey application.