Google Earth Outreach: Forest Watcher (USA)

#NatureForAll Strategies

The seven #NatureForAll strategies offer solutions to a worldwide problem of disconnection from nature. They have been developed based on recommendations received from the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress and the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, and advice from #NatureForAll partners worldwide. They will continue to evolve over time. Not every strategy may be applicable in every situation, so our partners choose the one(s) that work best in their local context.

The Goal

Forests provide critical benefits to humans and the planet, but we are losing them faster than ever before. Deforestation often occurs far from view and expands into remote areas before authorities can identify where to act.

Recent advances in satellite technology have enabled quantum leaps in forest monitoring. Using advanced algorithms and images from space, we can detect deforestation as quickly as every seven days after trees are lost -- creating powerful new information that can help identify and halt the spread of forest destruction faster than before. But the people on the frontlines of deforestation including indigenous communities, park rangers, and local law enforcement, often lack the internet connection needed to access and act on this information.

With Forest Watcher, data that was previously only accessible with a desktop computer and internet can now be taken offline and into the field.  Users can designate their areas of interest and receive alerts when satellites detect deforestation or forest fires in their area, and can download maps and other contextual data, like national park boundaries, straight to their phone. Forest Watcher provides users with a tool to collect information about what they observe for evidence-based management and conservation decisions. 

Previously, forest monitors followed easily-accessible footpaths or known patrol routes, missing recent clearing that fell just beyond their view - Forest Watcher enables more informed patrols.

Forest Watcher helps civil society and government agents in the field focus their limited resources to more effectively find and stop recent deforestation.

Credit: Amazon Conservation Team

Credit: Amazon Conservation Team

What strategies contribute to Forest Watcher's success?

Strategy 4: Embrace Technology

Technology is the foundation of this project. We are taking advantage of the modern landscape where more and more people have access to smart phones while appreciating that our end users often have limited internet or data access. We had to develop new technology that works offline in order to achieve our goal of getting Global Forest Watch data into the hands of users on the ground. The right technology was critical in developing a system to empower these users to take action in their local landscapes.

Strategy 6: Seek Out Diverse Partnerships

Our partners behind developing the Forest Watcher app, the World Resources Institute and the Jane Goodall Institute, worked with five user groups from around the world who represented indigenous communities, local civil society organizations, and law enforcement. This allowed them to collect diverse feedback from a manageable group that represented a wider audience. By working closely with partners on the ground through testing and development, they were able to apply lessons learned to create an innovative tool that was most beneficial to those actually using the app. The decisions in development were deliberate and direct thanks to our testing partners.


While the app is still in early adoption, it’s already been used to interdict illegal activities. For example, together with the Jane Goodall Institute, we trained government officials on the initial app in Uganda where forest monitors noticed one deforestation alert in the Kasyoha Kitomi Forest Reserve and upon investigation at the site, rangers found a small scale illegal logging camp. Because of the pixel’s isolated location deep in a protected area, this kind of deforestation may have gone unnoticed for years without Forest Watcher. The government prosecuted the loggers using Forest Watcher data and photographs in the case. The logging has stopped and the group was fined for the violation.

Since the beta launch in September 2017 the app has been downloaded over 2,000 times in over 100 countries. Peru, Indonesia, and Uganda have had the largest populations of users since launch, but we continue to see growth around the world.


Insider Tips

  • Invest in research and discovery. We interviewed dozens of users to better design the first version of this app.
  • Test the app iteratively in real conditions. We tested various versions of the app in forests across the world, providing valuable insights on how to improve the design for greater impact.
  • Build extra time into deadlines for unexpected delays in development and partner schedules.

#NatureForAll Campaign