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Hope for Rainforests through Technology

January 5, 2015

Hope for Rainforests through Technology

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Rhett Butler Rhett Butler

I closely track trends in the world’s tropical forests for my website, mongabay.com. For a decade-and-a-half, I have devoted tens of thousands of hours to the cause of protecting forests, engaging with the world’s leading forest experts, and visiting scores of forests around the world. During that time, I’ve continued to witness incredible destruction, and there has been reason for despair. But lately I’ve started seeing reasons for hope.

For one, there are more tools than ever before to monitor deforestation and support forest protection.

Satellite imagery is widely available and is now increasingly incorporated into monitoring systems that provide insight into tree cover gain and loss, activity in forestry concession areas, and fire history.

Closer to the ground, other monitoring capabilities are also improving. Conservationists hope that small aerial drones will greatly improve the detection of deforestation, illegal logging, fires, and poaching that would otherwise be missed by satellites.

On the ground, camera traps, sensors, and now, mobile devices are enabling new approaches to monitoring. For example, Rainforest Connection, a California-based startup, has developed a mobile phone-based system that “listens” for gunshots, chainsaws, and trucks. When a suspicious sound is detected, the system relays an alert to local authorities, enabling quick action. In addition, new innovations in DNA analysis are allowing investigators to trace timber products back to their points of origin, potentially determining their legality.

These new technologies provide important tools for law enforcement, but whether action is taken hinges on political will. In the past, this has been far from assured, but that too may be changing.

Adapted from Yale Environment 360 article.


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