The destruction of forests hurts people and the planet, while restoring these landscapes offers profound benefits—storing carbon, improving biodiversity, purifying water and air, buffering against floods and extreme weather, and providing people with food and other resources. It can be challenging, however, to identify the best sites to undertake forest restoration work. 

To meet that challenge, Spatial Informatics Group (SIG) has helped create a new decision-support mapping tool. 

SIG partnered on the project with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, NASA SERVIR (which helps countries use information from Earth observing satellites and geospatial technologies), SilvaCarbon (an interagency program of the US Government), and researchers at Duke and Peking universities. 

The tool is designed to help organizations and governments decide where to pursue forest restoration by highlighting which areas will show the highest return on investment in restoration efforts. 

A successful project depends not only on a region’s ecology but also on socioeconomic conditions—that is, whether political, social, and economic circumstances would allow forest restoration work to be carried out. As a result, the new mapping tool combines data on where tree restoration is ecologically possible with regional socioeconomic data, thus helping to zero in on areas where planting trees would pay the greatest dividends. The tool allows users to quantify their priorities and help them better understand how restoration interventions will help achieve their specific restoration goals, such as carbon enhancement, supporting community well-being, and wildlife conservation. 

The tool is hosted on Open Foris’s SEPAL (System for Earth Observation Data Access, Processing and Analysis for Land Monitoring) platform, an open-source, cloud-based platform from FAO that helps countries use satellite data to monitor forests and land use. The tool is now being used by partner organizations around the world.