Why the Moore Foundation is Investing in Community-Based Forest Conservation

Forest management decisions depend on understanding the extent of a forest and where deforestation is taking place. In the past, converting satellite images into readily usable data was a long and arduous process. Now, however, new software created by the Carnegie Institute for Science is making forest data easily accessible for communities around the world. This game changing project was made possible by funds from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (see IP’s profile).

The software that is rocking the forest conservation world is the CLASlite (Carnegie Landsat Analysis System). This software can detect deforestation and other forest disturbances in areas as small as 0.1 hectare — a feat that cannot be accomplished with traditional satellite methods. More importantly, by making satellite data more easily accessible, users can access and use high-quality images from NASA’s satellites.  This forest-monitoring tool will give conservationists, forest managers, and decision-makers better data with which they can make their forest use decisions. Also, there are now free web-based courses teaching anyone with an internet connection how to use the software — giving access to a far wider range of people.

The software has been long in the making, and the Moore Foundation has been making grants to the Carnegie Institute for several years. In 2007, the foundation gave $200,000 for the Carnegie Institute to determine baseline forest conditions in Peru, to eventually ensure that even the smallest NGO can conduct forest monitoring in a transparent and replicable way. In 2008, over $1.5 million went to the Institute to implement standardize satellite-base monitoring in the Andes-Amazon region including training to government agencies and NGOs of the CLASLite system. In 2012 over $700,000 was granted to expand the CLASlite training and dissemination throughout the Andes-Amazon region.

So far, the software has been used in Peru, Columbia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Madagascar. Its many success stories are a testament to its usefulness. It is also heartening that a grant funded through the Moore Foundation’s Andes-Amazon Initiative could eventually become a tool useful to conservationists around the world. Effective forest conservation is contingent upon good data and effective monitoring tools. The CLASLite system appears to be one grant that ended in success.