Sumatra & Creative Conservation


Traditional houses in West Sumatra. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

Finding this story by Mike Ives, with Topher White getting up into the trees for a good purpose, brightens the day just a little bit:

Using Old Cellphones to Listen for Illegal Loggers


Topher White installing a solar-powered listening unit in a rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in July. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

PAKAN RABAA, Indonesia — This village in West Sumatra, a lush province of volcanoes and hilly rain forests, had a problem with illegal loggers.

They were stealing valuable hardwood with impunity. At first, a group of local people put a fence across the main road leading into the forest, but it was flimsy and proved no match for the interlopers.

So, residents asked a local environmental group for camera traps or some other equipment that might help. In July, they got more than they expected: A treetop surveillance system that uses recycled cellphones and artificial intelligence software to listen for rogue loggers and catch them in the act.

“A lot of people are now afraid to take things from the forest,” Elvita Surianti, who lives in Pakan Rabaa, said days after a conservation technologist from San Francisco installed a dozen listening units by hoisting himself nearly 200 feet into the treetops. “It’s like the police are watching from above.”

The project, experts said in interviews, illustrates both the promise and perils of using artificial intelligence in the complex fight against deforestation.

“We know where the big illegal logging is happening. We can see that from satellite imagery,” said Erik Meijaard, an adjunct professor of biology at the University of Queensland in Australia and an expert on forest and wildlife management in Indonesia. “It’s in the next steps — following up, apprehending people, building a case in court and so on — where things generally go wrong.”

The outcome matters for global warming. Tropical deforestation is a major driver of climate change, accounting for about 8 percent of global emissions globally, according to the World Resources Institute, and forest-based climate mitigation accounts for a quarter of planned emissions reductions through 2030 by countries that signed the Paris climate accord, the 2015 agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions…

Read the whole story here.

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