What organization do you work with? I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. I research how land cover, land use and livelihoods are changing in relation to one another. I have been looking for instance at how forest use has changed as people have adopted export-oriented tree crops and how participation in off-farm labor markets influences people’s decisions around land and land management. I’m currently on a one year Fulbright grant to study agriculture and conservation strategies in Indonesia. How did you find out about Global Forest Watch? I was introduced to Global Forest Watch by Dan Hammer, former Chief Data Scientist at the World Resources Institute, whom I met through collaborative work together at Berkeley. He was behind Global Forest Watch’s near real-time alert system FORMA.
How did you become interested in forests? It’s been sort of a domino effect. I’ve loved being outdoors since I was young, which led me to major in ecology in undergrad. After college I moved to Vietnam to work for TRAFFIC, a wildlife conservation organization. As I continued to work in Southeast Asia with RECOFTC (The Center for People and Forests), I became more and more interested in the social and political histories of forests. These interests have come together in my current dissertation research, which lays at the intersection of environmental science and political ecology. What do you do with the GFW data? For me, Global Forest Watch is a great data validation tool. Especially with my field work, it’s nice to have a site where I can go to compare and contrast what I’m seeing on the ground with credible datasets that are being vetted by experts who know what they’re doing. I also love that it’s a one-stop-shop for the best available spatial datasets. Before Global Forest Watch, I had to go to countless different websites, create accounts, and keep track of all these usernames and passwords. And you go through all of this trouble, not even knowing the quality of information you’ll get from the sites. With GFW, you don’t have to create an account or even download the data to find the information you’re looking for or perform the analyses you need—although you can download data easily if you want to.
Did you find anything surprising with the data? One thing I have noticed through my work in Indonesia is the need for complementary datasets. The datasets pulled together by GFW are a fantastic resource, but information on land cover and land use zoning have to be read alongside understandings of land use and land use history, which can only be obtained by visiting the places depicted and by talking with the people who live there. For instance, we have hiked deep into several of the protected areas in Southeast Sulawesi—depicted as intact primary forest in various datasets—and seen clusters of planted sago palm, fruit trees and gravestones. These records, especially when accompanied by oral histories, help to contextualize both administrative and remotely sensed datasets. How can GFW improve? The GFW site is great! It’s very user friendly and I like the added layer of stories from the media and other GFW users. As mentioned, I’ve learned from personal experience that it’s important to supplement maps with local knowledge, especially in some villages where the history of land management mostly lives with the inhabitants. I think it would be great if GFW could put more resources toward collecting this information in the future. It’s a big undertaking, but helps create a more complete picture of the state of our forests!