GEOG 487
Environmental Challenges in Spatial Data Science

Required Readings & Videos


Required Readings & Videos

There are three types of required readings for Lesson 7: a short video describing issues facing forests and the conservation group - World Resources Institute (WRI) that created the data we will use in the lesson, background information about the study area, and Esri Help Topics related to the GIS tools we will use in the lesson.

Video: WRI's Forest Team - Part I (9:54)

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WRI's Forest Team - Part 1
Click for a transcript of the WRI's Forest Team video.

This is a water filtration system. 
This is an air purifier.

This is food and shelter.

This is building material and paper.

This is a pharmacy.

This is fuel to millions of people around the world.

This is a climate regulator.

This is a forest.

I'm Jonathan Lash. I'm the president of the World Resources Institute and I'd like to talk with you about forests. It's very likely that the breakfast table you sat at this morning was made with wood from a forest you've never met. In fact, probably the coffee you drank used water and coffee that came or were affected by a forest somewhere on earth. In light of all the things that forests do for us, it's actually quite astonishing how little good information there is about forests worldwide, and the forces affecting them. That's why my colleagues work with partners in every forested country to provide better information to governments, to non-governmental organizations, and to businesses, to enable better decisions about the future of forests. I hope you'll enjoy meeting some of my colleagues and hearing about what they do.

WRI’s global network has mapped all of the world's intact forest landscapes. Companies, governments, and environmental groups use our maps and expertise to balance conservation and development needs.

We train our partners on how to use computer-based information to help them make better decisions about forest management.

We help decision-makers address complex interconnected issues, such as climate change and deforestation.

We provide buyers with reliable, impartial, and easy-to-understand advice and sustainable procurement of forest products.

We build partnerships among timber companies, governments, training institutions, civil society organizations, and local populations. This ensures that our partners buy in and use our information tools.

At the dawn of Agriculture, almost half of the planet's land surface was covered by vast tracks of forest. Since then, almost half of those forests have been lost. Today, five large intact forest landscapes remain. They are the Boreal forests of Russia and Canada and the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, Central Africa, and the Amazon basin. Some of these forests are under tremendous pressure. From agricultural and timber industry expansion to illegal logging and lack of accountability, all can lead to these intricate landscapes being degraded or disappearing entirely.

To manage forests, you need recent and reliable information. WRI creates maps with accurate and up-to-date data. These maps show where the forests are and where deforestation is occurring. They allow decision-makers to analyze decreasing forest areas and figure out how to better manage their forests.

Let us take you on four brief trips to Russia, South America, Central Africa, and Indonesia and show you what we do.

In Russia, our maps have helped the negotiation and conflict resolution. WRI and our partners created a detailed forestry atlas of high conservation value forest in the Russian Far East. This atlas makes it possible to see both the Russian government's forest quadrants and the high conservation value forest on the same map. The atlas helped settle an impasse between a big Russian timber company called Turnalias and a group of Russian and international NGOs. At issue was Turnalias’ activity in a hitherto untouched river basin. Once both parties had access to an accurate and detailed map, they were able to negotiate meaningfully and reach a lasting compromise solution. Turnalias agreed to keep a moratorium on logging and road construction in the higher conservation value areas. They further agreed to support working with the NGOs to survey the areas and decide which would become protected areas and which would be opened up to logging.

WRI maps are guiding forest companies doing business in boreal forest regions across Russia and Canada. The Forest Stewardship Council, one of the globally recognized labels for sustainable forest management, also uses WRI Maps. FSC ensures that timber companies seeking to be certified take proper account of large forests of high conservation value.

The Amazon is a precious natural resource subject to significant human pressures. For successful forest management and conservation, it is critical to identify these pressures and understand how they are related. Two major pressures on forests are agriculture and ranching, but to get a more complete picture WRI and a Brazilian organization, Amazon, identified additional factors, such as settlements, fires, and mining. Together they mapped these pressures across the Brazilian Amazon. This map provided critical data to the Brazilian government and informed the government's decisions about where to establish new federally and state protected areas, leading to the protection of over 16 and a half million hectares of important rainforest.

After the Amazon, the Congo Basin of Central Africa contains the second-largest block of a moist tropical forest in the world. But lack of information, limited government capacity, and weak governance have led to poor forest management. WRI is working with governments in the region to address these issues and to help improve the management of forest resources in central Africa. In central Africa, until recently, forest information was paper-based and scattered throughout various government ministries in each country. The result was a lack of standardized data and sometimes even led to conflicting information. Gathering all of the information in one standardized geographic information system or GIS database, to produce up-to-date forestry maps and interactive atlases, was WRI’s first step to improve the accuracy, completeness, and quality of the forest information. To do this, WRI set up in-country GIS laboratories and partnered with these countries' governments and local NGOs to digitize maps of all recognized logging titles and protected areas. Working with local partners, WRI was able to clean up overlapping boundaries and fill in the missing information. We also trained our partners on how to use satellite images to pinpoint when and where logging activity was occurring. The government ministries in charge of forests in central Africa now use these atlases to monitor activities in the country's forests and better manage logging concessions. With a single harmonized set of digital forest data, the forest ministries avoid past mix-ups between agencies and local NGOs are now able to more effectively monitor ongoing activity. These atlases are proving to be powerful tools for fighting illegal logging.

Indonesia has one of the world's highest deforestation rates. WRI’s fire maps and interactive atlases are now helping Indonesia and other countries address climate change. Large intact forest landscapes, such as those in Indonesia, are vital to keeping the world's climate in balance. But the clearing and burning of primary forests and peatlands, much of it for new oil palm plantations, has made Indonesia one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.

The international community is developing a mechanism to combat climate change through better forest management, called RED, which stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, in developing countries. Through RED, industrialized countries that cannot reduce their carbon emissions to target levels would pay developing countries to keep their forests intact. WRI partnered with Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry, the World Bank, local NGOs, and remote sensing experts, to analyze the carbon content of Indonesia's forests. This unique forest monitoring system helps equip the Indonesian government with the credible information it needs to enter into international negotiations on RED.

Credit: World Resources Institute (WRI) -

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