Aren’t You GLAD We Have New Forest Monitoring Options? Part 1

For the next few weeks, we’re going to talk with Ruth Nogueron of the World Resources Institute (WRI). Ruth is an awesome resource regarding timber legality issues. Take a look at just some of the projects she runs or has a hand in:

  • The Forest Legality Initiative: documenting better practices and incorporating emerging technologies in corporate supply chains to reduce the risk of sourcing illegal forest products.
  • The Sustainable Procurement Guide project: a partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which provides guidance for corporate buyers as they develop and implement procurement policies for wood and paper-based products.
  • Guidelines for small and medium size enterprises’ capacity to comply with global market legality requirements such as the U.S. Lacey Act and the European Union Timber Regulation.

And click on her bio! There’s a tab for publications, and there’s a huge list of useful resources there.

Ruth is here to talk about just one of the amazing new uses of available technology now, Global Forest Watch (GFW). Coordinated by WRI, this represents a true global partnership of many groups and governments. It harnesses cutting edge technology to provide the most up to date forest monitoring information to governments, private sector actors, and civil society organizations, and it’s really amazing. I had a chance to see Ruth demo it at the last IWPA convention, and knew I needed her to do a blog on it. So we got together, and now you get to look at what this tech can do!

Ruth, thank you and wow, this is amazing bit of tech.  How did it get started, who can use it and why would they?

Ruth:  Thank you for the opportunity. GFW is an exciting project to be involved in and I am happy to say that anybody can access GFW online free of charge to analyze and visualize near real-time forest data showing where and how forests are changing around the world.

GFW is a global partnership convened by the World Resources Institute. We have more than 68 partners involved in the development including research organizations, data and technology providers, donors, private companies, governments, and civil society organizations. GFW was first launched in 1997 and in those days, we spent hours creating printable maps. The technology for the platform we have today was just not there yet. In 2014 WRI re-launched GFW taking advantage of the computer technology that now allows processing of tons of freely available satellite imagery in no time at all. Since 2014, more than 2 million people have visited the platform from every single country in the world.

And as to why? Well, I think these forest monitoring systems and platforms can be another tool in the timber trade sector’s “due care toolbox”. It is one of many ways a company can conduct due care, and well, I also think it’s one of the coolest ways too.

Ok, to the nuts and bolts:  What does it do?  What do you mean by “near real-time forest monitoring?” 

Ruth:  GFW makes available a variety of satellite-based forest monitoring datasets. They vary in geographic coverage, frequency and resolution, but the most advanced system is the GLAD alerts. GLAD stands for Global Land Analysis and Discovery and the data is generated by researchers at the University of Maryland.

Every week, the lab analyzes NASA’s freely available Landsat satellite images through an automated process to identify recent deforestation across the globe. GLAD alerts are updated weekly for near-real-time monitoring and the alerts are available across the entire tropical region.

I’m a huge space buff and NASA fan and love that this is just another way the space program is paying off in an unexpected way.

Ruth:  The level of detail we can get from the satellite view is amazing.  Every pixel represents an area of 30 by 30 meters where at least 50 percent of the tree cover was lost. Because of the weekly update schedule, users can get as close as possible to seeing forests change in real time.

That means that every pixel counts! How accurate are the GLAD alerts?

Ruth:  The University of Maryland estimates that only about 13 percent of the alerts are false positives; most of these false positives occur bordering areas where confirmed change has occurred. The alerts are designed to provide a conservative estimate of forest loss and an estimated third of all alerts are false negatives. One of the limitations to the alerts is cloud cover, which obscures any changes from the view of passing satellites. Nevertheless, GLAD alerts have been able to track the expansion of forest roads, detect new sites of mining and logging and show the rapid expansion of agricultural clearing.

For example, this gif shows a logging road moving into the forest over the course of a single month.

That is just amazing.  You’ve sold me on the tech.  Next week let’s talk how to use it, ok?

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Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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