Linking forests and people is a powerful idea.

Three months ago, on a Monday morning in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa. An Indigenous group, the Grand Council of the Crees, have offices in Ottawa that serve as a technical and policy headquarters for their 9 communities and 18,000 people in northern Quebec, a French-speaking province in eastern Canada. Isaac Voyageur is a Cree, or one of the people of Eeyou Istchee in their language, a phrase in the Cree language that means the “People’s Land.” Isaac is one of these people.

He came in to work at 9 on that Monday morning. He receives his regular Global Forest Watch alerts or “GFW Alerts” via Facebook, which shows exactly where road building and logging has occurred as recently as the past two weeks in the more than 450,000 square kilometres of Cree territory in northern Quebec.

On this Monday morning, a few bright red points appear on a map within one of Cree traplines. He clicks to zoom in. There it is. Primary intact forest has just disappeared. The illegal loggers are probably still nearby. He immediately telephones a local Cree partner working near the affected trapline. “We’ve got activity. Latitude 49.92° N, Longitude 74.37° W. I’m e-mailing the map now. Go check it out.” After notifying the government authorities, his partner heads into the trapline, records the clearing’s GPS coordinates, takes photos with a smartphone, and uploads them instantly to the GFW website with a tailor-made app. The story is out that day. A successful effort to save the forests in the traplines has begun, and in time to stop more damage.

Ecologically intact boreal forests are critical to the survival of the Cree people. Although this is as yet a hypothetical story, the Crees, using the Global Forest Watch – GFW – system, will soon be “watching” these intact forests.

Using the latest technologies, Global Forest Watch will be watching from space and will link forests and people by mobilizing a convergence of recent advances in technology.

These advances in technology include:

–        Inexpensive satellite pictures

–        Cloud computing and open source software

–        Crowdsourcing

–        High speed internet connectivity

–        Smartphones

–        Social media

Building the links between forests and people will create more transparency. It will empower communities, whether those communities be traditional collections of people who reside in the same place, or people scattered around the world who form a community linked by the internet with the same forest area in mind.

Near real-time satellite pictures, combined with credible ancillary datasets such as boundaries of logging concessions and boundaries of protected areas and community forests. And all this information will also be linked to information about logging supply chains – where the wood and wood products move. And people and organizations everywhere having ready access can activate the system whenever they wish for their forest area of interest.

Over the past 50 years, about half the world’s original forest cover has been lost, the most significant cause for that being humans beings’ unsustainable use of its resources. Along with loss of original forest cover comes loss of species and ecosystems.

When we take away the forest, it is not just the trees that go. The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart, with consequences, often dire consequences.

 Despite our dependence on forests, we are still allowing them to disappear or become degraded.

Forests are threatened throughout the world for many reasons, including deforestation and degradation due primarily to logging.

Significant amounts of deforestation and forest degradation occur because there have been severe forest data challenges. Across the globe, forest data continues to be unreliable, out of date, dispersed across many different sources which may or may not be comparable, very expensive to access, too technical for the average person to understand, and not presented in ways that people can easily interact with the data and with each other around the data.

This situation makes the work of governments harder. It impedes law enforcement, public participation, and informed policymaking, and it facilitates corruption.

By watching forests through satellites and recent advances in social media technologies, GFW has multiple target users and applications that will catalyze conservation and sustainable management of forests. They include:

–         Buyers of sustainable commodities

–         Conservation and community organizations

–         Governments

–         The media

–         Suppliers of sustainable commodities

 This new tool represents an important step in empowering governments and communities to make evidence-based, informed decisions in advancing sustainable forest management.


Peter Lee’s BiographImagey:

Peter Lee is the Executive Director of Global Forest Watch Canada. Previous to this, he was an Endangered Spaces campaigner for World Wildlife Canada and a biologist with the Alberta Government in Canada. He has also been a sessional lecturer at the University of Alberta and has worked in the forestry and oil and gas industries. He has a post-graduate degree in ecology and geography from the University of Alberta.  Peter has served on many boards of charitable organizations, including the Alberta Environmental Law Centre, Nature Canada, Castle Crown Wilderness Association and Nature Alberta. His 40 year career has focused on improving sustainable land management in Alberta and nationally, throughout Canada, and internationally. His work with Global Forest Watch Canada focusses on monitoring the state of Canada’s forests using remote sensing and geographic information systems technologies.