A Transparent Forests user workshop was held in Bonn on 22 February, hosted by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
About 50 forest certification experts participated in discussions about accreditation, certification of forestry organisations and plantations and product traceability. The IAP TransparentForests feasibility study builds on previous ESA Earth Observation Market Development (EOMD) activities.
The team will design and evaluate a service that will better facilitate the certifier's field inspection process and provide a centralised web-accessible database with geospatial interface and controlled access for all stakeholders.
Those sustainability principles of FSC that have proven to be the biggest obstacles to certification or the certification process were identified and analyzed.The consortium then presented a mock-up operation of what a TransparentForests solution could look like based on actual satellite data. A central web-based system is proposed to which all actors in the chain (FSC, certifiers, forestry organisations, NGO's) have access, each with its own visibility of certain subsets of data.
Satellite imagery from SAR and optical sources, available at various resolutions and time intervals, combined with georeferenced in-situ data, can help to highlight areas that deviate from forestry management plans or FSC principles. The relevance of understanding the accuracy of in-field positioning (be it with GNSS or otherwise) was stressed. Soil fertility data was identified as an important input for foresters, in combination with historical Earth Observation data and appropriate models, to help predict potential future yield.
All parties agreed that TransparentForests is not intended as another Geospatial Information System. Rather, it should be a user friendly tool, no more difficult to operate than your average smartphone app, that shall guide the users through their process steps, performing as necessary data logging, automated alerting, quantitative analysis and even reporting. It was agreed that it would be extremely useful for both forester and certifier to build up a database in a format that is supported by FSC also in the long term, from which historical trends can then be generated.
Potential benefits were discussed such as improved audit planning, fairness, transparency, objectivity, traceability and consistency. The availability of a TransparentForests solution is generally thought to have a supportive impact on the forestry manager and provide a source of independent data to certification bodies. Several issues were raised, such as data security, data and tool compatibility, the importance of the auditor's report in words rather than images, the spreading of costs over the various beneficiaries and the currently relatively small role that geospatial information plays in certification. For some forests that are very small or well-known to the auditor, the use of a high-tech solution can appear overkill. These issues will have to be investigated during the study.
The second part of the workshop was limited to the primary users of TransparentForests, the certification bodies. About 15 user representatives split into three groups; Community Values, Environmental Values and Resource Monitoring. The groups identified the key problems that both the forest manager has in preparing for the audit as well as those faced by the certifier in undertaking the audit, that could be supported through better geospatial data or integration of navigation and tracking technologies. During the process of developing user needs, the potential benefits of integrating Earth Observation and GNSS navigational and tracking technologies into a GIS platform became clear to many participants. The needs collected are currently being categorised and will be the basis for generating user requirements on a more technical level.
For more information about the TransparentForests feasibility study, see the link in the column to the right.