July 25th, 2017

In the last couple of weeks, the Forest Inspector has raised vivid discussions in the Romanian press about the status of the platform and the mobile application.   
TERRASIGNA has contributed to the platform development, and the facts below present the service evolution, as well as its progress' deployment stages.  

The Romanian Forest Inspector is a monitoring service, based on satellite imagery, acquired and processed by our company, and transferred to the general public use, through an IT platform, administered by an external company.

The service is a geographic information system that ingests Sentinel 1 radar imagery and optical satellite images from Sentinel 2 and Landsat. Support information is acquired from Open Street Map and Google platforms. Data availability is verified every two to five days and acquired once it meets the mandatory quality and cloud coverage criteria. Prior to any imagery analysis, in-house developed software performs all the necessary pre-processing steps like co-registration or atmospheric correction. Afterwards, the software compares pairs of images taken at 10 to 15 days interval over the same areas and identifies the changes in forest cover, which can indicate logging activities, wind damages, fires, etc.

These changes, that can be equalled to forest loss, do not necessarily represent illegal deforestation.
Forest loss can be caused by various natural and human induced processes loss: legal harvesting, wind damages, landslides, fires, flash floods, etc. In order to assess legal or illegal forest cuts, the satellite map is further populated with information coming from the governmental digital database and tracking system. This information includes:

  • permissions about who, what and where to cut - woodland project developments, exploitation licenses and other legal approvals for forest exploitation;
  • the truck license plate number;
  • the logging location.

The platform represents a part of SUMAL project (Woodland Vegetation Tracking System) and brings together citizen activism, technology and authorities. Due to its multi-level access features, both authorities and citizens can monitor the logging activities.

Back in 2014, in order to fight illegal cutting, the government at that time first established a mandatory digital tracking system for all the trucks transporting wood. This mobile application - initially known as The Forest Radar (Radarul Padurilor) - allows every citizen to verify the legitimacy of logging operations, based on the truck licence plate number, GPS data records and location registration.
However, the system proved to be easily eluded through GPS fake loading points, and in 2016, in order to add an additional control, this mobile application was enforced with the online platform The Forest Inspector - solution based on satellite images.

The service efficacy was first highlighted by the Romsilva’s General Manager. 






In March 2017, The Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests in force, Mrs. Adriana PETCU declared:
“The Forest Inspector package - both the mobile application and the web platform - are essential instruments in fighting illegal deforestation. The systems are still in testing periods, but they already proved their usefulness. This is an unique transparency exercise both in Europe and in the world, and it must be continued and upgraded. This is why our specialists work to include new features for more accuracy and efficiency of logging activities.”*

The upgrades status change was also reported in the Romanian press, at that time.

In July 2017, newly appointed Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests, Mrs. Doina PANĂ declared: “...There is The Forest Inspector - mobile application, and every citizen can verify via smart phone the legitimacy of a wood transport, which is functional, secured and I support it. And there is also the web portal, which is a very smart service, and I also salute it, support it, and want to use it, but on legal premises. Based on satellite images, every two days, maps can identify any logging in Romanian forests.
The scope of this service is to identify the illegal deforestation. But in order to do that, this portal had to be enriched with governmental information for any legal cut permits. The portal has been populated only with the information coming from Romsilva, but Romsilva is administering less than half of the Romanian forests, and the platform has started a national hysteria.
Since its launch, there were more than six thousand alerts, from which only 17 were illegal.”

The declaration to cease the web platform development triggered reactions from environmental non-governmental organizations, which started an online petition for advocating The Forest Inspector existence. Details here  and here.

Also, the former administration, from 2016, which initiated the platform development, has communicated its point of view regarding the use and legitimacy of the service.    

17 illegal deforestation identified via The Forest Inspector is a significant number, given the fact the system is not fully operational, and still misses governmental information, as the Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests, Mrs. Doina PANĂ acknowledged herself.

While benefiting from data provided by public authorities, the system could potentially deliver other complementary information:

  • forest fires maps;
  • woodland vegetation maps;
  • woodland regeneration maps, etc.

This information can be delivered at regional, administrative or other distribution type levels.

Satellite technologies offer enormous opportunities to benefit from, and the use of them has just started to show their potential.

We are confident that these technologies will support the progress of the Romanian society, regardless of governments’ political colours.

* Source Hotnews
** Source RFI