Friday, July 27, 2007

Mapping can save forests, say African scientists


Deforestation can be tracked by satellite images

Mapping can save forests, say African scientists

Zablon Odhiambo
27 July 2007
Source: SciDev.Net

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African Logging Decimating Pristine Forests, Report Warns

Mapping and remote sensing technology can be used by developing countries to conserve forests and biodiversity, say experts.
Such 'geospatial' technology is helping African countries to conserve forests and identify areas in need of intervention, said scientists at a meeting organised by the Society for Conservation GIS-Kenya in Nairobi, Kenya, last week (20 July).
Geospatial technologies include global positioning systems (GPS) for capturing basic location data, remote sensing, which uses aerial photography, and geographic information systems (GIS), which analyse data to create maps.
GIS expert Peter Ndunda, is currently running a mapping program with the nongovernmental Green Belt Movement in the Mount Kenya and Aberdares forests. He told SciDev.Net that his project has mapped these regions to determine loss in forest cover over time.
"Having identified forested and non-forested areas, we have mapped out areas that need urgent intervention. With support from local communities, we have planted trees which we are monitoring using high-resolution images to determine their survival," he said.
According to Ndunda, the project has resulted in increased forest cover, improved soil quality and better management of water resources. Planting trees in higher ground, from which water flows down to rivers, helps stabilise the local climate and regulate water flows.
He added that by rehabilitating the forests, ecosystems have been preserved. And involving local communities in forest management has provided them with an income, along with education in the sustainable use of watersheds.
Ndunda says the project will soon be extended to the Cherengany, Mau and Mount Elgon forests in Kenya, as well as to the Congo Basin forest.
Forest communities themselves are also using technology to monitor their forest. In anticipation of payments under the Clean Development Mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol, communities near the Aberdares and Mount Kenya forests are assessing the number, species and width of trees, along with the amount of canopy cover, to determine the amount of carbon sequestered.
The Kenya-based Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development is involved in a project with the United Nations Environment Programme using GPS to map forested and non-forested areas in the Mount Kenya forest area.
They are mapping vegetation, forest cover, infrastructure and tourist attractions to enhance sustainable use of forest resources and for use in community education.
The National Museums of Kenya are also using geospatial technology to monitor bird biodiversity and elsewhere in Africa, national park services in Mauritania and Tanzania are using satellite imaging to examine crop-damaging locust population levels.



This map shows the location of the Virunga Conservation area within Africa, and highlights an area in the "Mikeno" sector of the park where rapid deforestation occurred in June 2004. (Credit: Nadine Laporte/ Tiffany Lin)

Date: January 19, 2005

Gorillas In The Midst Of Extinction

Science Daily — Satellites provide a bird's eye view of planet Earth, and the space-based vantage can be extremely useful to people interested in viewing out-of-the-way places. Conservationists, for example, must monitor far-flung areas in need of protection. Wars, poverty, remoteness, lack of government involvement, and uncertainty over the best places and ways to focus limited resources can all hinder conservation efforts. Now, NASA satellite imagery is giving scientists and conservationists some of the tools they need to get valuable information on land cover and land use changes in wild areas.
NASA satellite imagery helps scientists better understand land changes in the Virunga Conservation Area which covers the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. In Swahili, the word virunga means volcano. The Virunga Conservation Area offers habitat to 380 of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas. The other 320 gorillas reside in the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
In a single week in June of 2004, farmers created pasture for their cattle by clearing 15 square kilometers (5.8 square miles), or 6 percent, of the 264-square kilometers (102 square miles) of mountain gorilla habitat in the southern "Mikeno" sector of Virunga National Park. Because mountain gorilla numbers had increased by close to 56 individuals over the last 10 years, the recent loss of land was a considerable step backward.
In a race against time for the mountain gorillas and many other species indigenous to these natural areas, scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) in Woods Hole, MA, are working with NASA and conservationists in the Virunga National Park to stave off further destruction of the lands.
"Remote sensing is the only tool that we have to efficiently monitor these remote parks," says Nadine Laporte, head of the Africa Program at WHRC. "Satellite imagery allows park managers to update park property boundaries, map forest habitat, and look at encroachment of the park by comparing images from two different dates."
Laporte is working with conservation groups to create a monitoring system that combines NASA satellite imagery with aerial flight and field surveys, all of which can be relayed to and coordinated with local park rangers on the ground. Currently, park workers are building a three-foot wall along key park borders to keep out cattle and people seeking to alter the land.
NASA now provides free Landsat images, which researchers and rangers are using as base maps for field surveys. "We still have to integrate remote sensing with traditional surveys on the ground," said Laporte. "They really complement each other. The rate of change is so rapid that we need satellite imagery in a timely fashion to address the problems in the area. Aerial imagery is too expensive."
Since gorilla habitat crosses three different countries, satellite imagery provides data and perspectives that are not bound by political borders. The satellite images can create a convenient method for exchanging information among the three parks that make up the Virunga Conservation Area.
Along with mapping and monitoring changes in forest cover, a time-sensitive series of images can allow researchers to estimate rates and patterns of deforestation in and around protected areas. These patterns are also studied in relation to trends in human migration.
###
The Africa Program at the Woods Hole Research Center is funded though NASA's Land Cover Land Use Change program, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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