NET NEWS: Network to Log World Forest Loss

Science  10 Mar 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5459, pp. 1707
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5459.1707b

In a new strategy to guard what's left of the world's original forests, conservationists have created a global network and Web site to keep tabs on where trees are coming under the saw. Global Forest Watch (GFW), announced last week, combines satellite technology and old-fashioned legwork to create detailed forest maps that reveal activities such as illegal logging.

The project involves two kinds of data: land cover images from U.S., European, and Russian satellites; and on-the-ground info on logging permits, mining, and other development gathered from governments and local advocacy groups. GFW experts combine the data using spatial coordinates from the Geographic Information System, then post the maps on the Web. Already online are interactive maps of Canada, Cameroon, and Gabon. They show, for example, how logging concessions have expanded from 8% to 76% of Cameroon's forest since 1959 (in purple above)—even though many permits are expired or otherwise illegal.

The network, launched by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Washington, D.C., and dozens of partners, is intended to be neutral. Governments can use the maps to manage forests better, for instance, while activists might wield them to oppose logging in virgin forests. GFW plans to expand to 21 countries over the next 5 years. “This is the first attempt to try to do this for much of the world,” says WRI scientist Anthony Janetos.

“It's an important step forward,” agrees Chris Justice of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, who works on an international global forest cover project that uses data from satellites only. He thinks GFW's biggest challenge may be “building trust” with loggers. “If it's seen as undercover digging up,” he says, “they won't get access to information.”

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