New Online Forest Atlas Tracks State of Global Forests

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

Every month there are new academic papers, satellite images, and GIS-based data sets revealing the threats facing the world’s forest regions, from illegal logging and hunting in parts of Africa to the rampant expansion of agricultural lands across the Amazon.
Rarely, however, has the deluge of data been collected into one cohesive resource capturing the full scope of this global challenge.
A new project of the F&ES-based Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry (GISF) aims to do just that. Launched this fall, the Global Forest Atlas currently provides a glimpse of the state of forest resources in the Amazon and the Congo basin based on the latest research. Ultimately, its organizers hope it will become a sort of living almanac of forest resources worldwide for journalists and advocates, scientists and general readers.
“We’re trying to tell a story,” said Mary Tyrrell, Executive Director of the GISF. “You’d have to plow through a lot of information to get to the essence of what’s happening in these places. We’re trying to simplify a really complicated topic without oversimplifying.”
“We envision the Atlas becoming an objective place where people can find out what is happening in the world’s forests. We’re not creating new data but we’re looking at everything out there and synthesizing it into a narrative about the pressures facing the world’s forests.”
You’d have to plow through a lot of information to get to the essence of what’s happening in these places.
— Mary Tyrrell
After combing through the latest forest news and research over the last two years, F&ES students have summarized the different threats facing each region, including pressures associated with agricultural expansion, climate change, population growth, and mining.
Later this spring the site will cover issues facing the world’s boreal forests and temperate rainforests. Next year, editors hope to tackle Indonesia and Southeast Asia. But for now, they have focused solely on the Amazon and Central Africa.
“These are the two big regions that are under huge threat,” said Mark Ashton, a professor of silviculture and forest ecology, who advises the project. “Everyone is concerned about avoiding deforestation and conserving biodiversity here, so it made sense to focus on those regions first.”
Eventually, they hope to incorporate mapping technology to better illustrate these ecological impacts spatially, to provide a “picture” of global forest resources in near real time. They will also explore opportunities to partner with non-governmental organizations or other institutions.
Tyrrell and Ashton decided to tackle this project because there is nothing quite like it on the Web. They hope it will eventually fill a valuable niche in global forest conservation.
“Organizations like the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund, which have an interest in forests, publish global assessments and develop sophisticated mapping projects,” Ashton said. “But they’re doing it once every decade or so, and that’s it. It’s not a continuous assessment of the impacts on forests specifically.”
By synthesizing the volumes of electronic literature it is possible to document the trends and changes in resource issues annually, he said. And F&ES students interested in these issues, he added, are an ideal mechanism by which to develop a continuous protocol to document and monitor change.