rainforest

Saving the Rainforest…with Data

By Betty Kreakie, Ph.D

EPA's Betty Kreakie in Suriname

EPA’s Betty Kreakie, Ph.D in Suriname.

Managing big data is difficult.

Well, let me rephrase that slightly: Managing high-quality big environmental data is really, really difficult.

But, you may ask, if it is so difficult, why bother?  Because if you are able to successfully generate and manage high-quality environmental data in a Geographic Information System (GIS), you can save the rainforest.  And then… the world!

This was the sales pitch I used during my Embassy Science Fellowship in Paramaribo, Suriname.  Suriname is a small country located just north of Brazil.  The goal of my three month fellowship was to assist the Ministerie van Ruimtelijke Ordening, Grond en Bosbeheer (RGB) (Ministry of Physical Planning, Land and Forestry Management) with the development of a spatial data management plan.  RGB is a relatively new ministry (founded in 2005) and faces the same daunting concerns as many other land management agencies, such as limited resources and high workloads.  Incorporating new data management concepts into an established, busy agency is challenging.  And for a country that is still 80% pristine rainforest, environmental data management will be critical for sustaining growth while preserving natural resources.

My efforts focused on three main areas to build a strong data management foundation: strategic data planning, logistics and organization, and implementing new softwares/technologies.  First, strategic data planning helps ensure that data collection is in line with specific management goals and the agency’s mission.  Second, having logistical protocols in place that explicitly state how data are collected and processed increases efficiency and reduces confusion.  And finally, I introduced some new cost-effective software that would help streamline data processing and increase quality control.

To those who attended my workshops, this material was not immediately compelling.  For some reason, people do not find data management beguiling.  And this is where my sales pitch came into play.  Building a high-quality database of environmental information in Suriname will allow land managers to preserve their amazing natural resources while still allowing for development opportunities.

With big environmental data, Suriname can achieve true sustainable development while preserving one of the world’s few last intact rainforests.

About the AuthorBetty Kreakie, Ph.D., is a research ecologist for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development in Narragansett, Rhode Island.  Her work focuses on the development of spatially explicit, landscape level models that predict how biological populations and communities will respond to anthropogenic influences such as nutrient and contaminant inputs, climate change, and habitat conversion.

Editor’s Note: The Embassy Science Fellows is a partnership between U.S. federal technical agencies and the Department of State to provide scientific and engineering staff to serve in short-term assignments in U.S. posts abroad. The goal of the program is to provide expertise in science, mathematics, and engineering to support the work of embassies, consulates, and missions of the State Department while providing international experience to EPA staff.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Insights From A Peace Corps Volunteer

By Sandra O’Neill

It’s March 16, 2006. I’m in the back of a pick-up truck riding down a slick mixture of mud and clay. The truck’s wheels search for traction in places where the road has split into child-sized crevasses. It’s the rainy season in Madagascar, and water has transformed a savannah into a veritable rainforest in the span of one week. This is the road to the village where I will live for two years and it is in very poor condition. But for me, this is the first day of life in a village that promises work in environmental education. I’ve never seen the village before and my Malagasy language competence is equivalent to that of a 3 year old child. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.

When I reach the center of my village, I am overwhelmed. The house I will live in is comprised of a styrofoam-like material that neither block views of my neighbors from me or views of me from my neighbors. Nailed tin sheets serve as a roof for my hut and I learn that my water supply for washing dishes, cooking, and cleaning are in a neighbor’s salt-water well. And yet, I am better positioned in this village than the majority of its population.

Over 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have served in countries like Madagascar since 1961. PCVs spend 27 months working with host country nationals on a wide array of issues relating to health, income generation, and the environment. Peace Corps provides an engaging atmosphere where volunteers are challenged to address serious issues in non-conventional contexts. During their two years abroad, PCVs learn to value American government agencies that take their mission’s seriously; they especially learn to value the environmental benefits the EPA provides in a very personal and direct way (appreciation for limits on vehicle emissions goes through the roof!)

This year, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) at EPA are organizing to celebrate the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary with a special celebration on November 29, 2011. We welcome you to join our celebration! RPCVs will share unique insights on global issues based on their Peace Corps experience and be available to discuss how their on-the-ground experiences have informed their careers at the EPA. For me, coordinating environmental projects in Madagascar helped me to realize that I wanted to work to protect human health and the environment. Five years later, I’m working at the EPA.

About the author: Sandra O’Neill joined the EPA in 2009 and works in the Office of Environmental Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia and and enjoys promoting the combined mission statements of both the Peace Corps and the EPA: world peace, friendship, and protection of human health and the environment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: Sustaining Tropical Forests

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

The Amazon basin contains more than half the world’s remaining tropical rainforest, and is facing unprecedented changes that will have major impacts on biodiversity, regional hydrology and the global carbon cycle.

But the need for employment is causing tropical deforestation on a vast scale.

Stopping deforestation requires forest management strategies that provide jobs for people living in or near forests while also creating incentives for forest conservation. The andiroba tree (C. guianensis)– valued for the high-quality oil extracted from its seeds and for its mahogany-like timber—could provide this opportunity.

Collect the seeds, cut down the tree, or a little of both?

image of author standing on a root of a big tree over waterThrough my research, I am looking at the intersection of conservation and economics related to harvesting C. guianensis. I am using ecological models with an economic component to answer the question: Under what ecological and market conditions would the collection of C. guianensis seed oil be favored and, conversely, under what ecological and market conditions would C. guianensis timber harvest be favored?

Since 2004, I have been measuring growth, survival and reproduction of C. guianensis trees at my research site in the Brazilian Agricultural Research Institute’s 1,200-hectare research forest in Acre, Brazil.

Using these measurements, I plan to fine-tune models about future tree growth under various management scenarios, as well as identify how different life stages, such as seedlings, saplings, mature trees, etc., contribute to growth of the entire tree population. For example, it is possible that leaving a certain number of reproducing trees per hectare would maintain a growing population, leaving other, non-reproductive trees to be harvested?

I will use the new model to determine sustainable harvest limits for both timber and seed, and then incorporate the results into a financial assessment of these two competing strategies to manage the species. To ensure that the tree population is maintained and that it generates income, I plan to compare the relative compatibility of timber vs. seed harvest.

After I finish writing up my results, I will return to Brazil to give a series of training workshops and seminars on my results so they can be applied to forest management practices. In addition, I will compile materials (including comic-book-like illustrated pamphlets) that break down my results into tools that can benefit forest residents and local nongovernmental organizations. By sharing my research results in this way, I hope that I can provide important information to the local Brazilian government and play a part in helping people living near the forest find a sustainable way to create income based on a standing (or managed) forest.

About the author: Christie Klimas is a PhD student at the University of Florida in the department of Forest Resources and Conservation. A 2004-2006 EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Research Fellowship supported her Master’s Degree research.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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