Credit: Djoan Bonfils, WRI

Placing real-time data in the hands of frontline forest guardians.

Say hello to Forest Watcher.


In the forests of the Leuser Ecosystem, where elephants, tigers, rhinos and orangutans live together side by side, wildlife protection teams supported by HAkA patrol by day and sleep in tents by night. These dedicated rangers are on the frontline protecting the Leuser Ecosystem from illegal logging and poaching. But, with more than 2.6 million hectares of ground to cover, these rangers are turning to technology that supports their monitoring efforts by alerting them to recent forest loss.

We’ve been working with World Resources Institute, the Jane Goodall Institute and other Global Forest Watch partners to build a mobile application that gives power to the people on the frontline of forest protection. People like HAkA’s rangers. Forest Watcher is designed for investigating and reporting deforestation: it delivers real-time deforestation alerts, fire alerts, and annual tree cover loss data, even when internet connectivity is poor or non-existent.

Forest Watcher was first developed by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), Google, Touch Lab and Global Forest Watch to give forest rangers and local communities access to up-to-date satellite data for forest monitoring offline. This provided a great opportunity to inform patrols as not everyone has access to the internet — especially when they are deep inside a vast, thick rainforest. However, with new forest loss satellite products such as weekly GLAD and fire alerts, the app needed an update. To address this, we’ve built a new version that builds on the lessons learnt from the first version and continues to provide offline access to the latest forest data.

User testing in the Republic of Congo. Credit: Jessica Webb, WRI.

Available for both Android and iOS operating systems, Forest Watcher extends the power of Global Forest Watch, which brings together satellite technology, open data and human networks. Anyone with an internet connection can access Global Forest Watch and find out when, where and how forests are changing. Forest Watcher puts that information directly into the hands of the people who don’t have reliable access to the internet.

When we began developing Forest Watcher, we had the opportunity to talk to local communities, rangers and conservation practitioners from all over the world, including the original users in Uganda, to find out what their needs and priorities are. They told us they wanted to see alerts for only the areas they cared about most, and have offline access to them. Their priorities included offline navigation; standardised data collection protocols, and the ability to sync reports with their base or head office.

As we learned more about their lives, we gained a new appreciation for the challenges they face and how they could be overcome with assistance from technology. For example, forest patrol teams — like those in the Leuser Ecosystem — have a lot of ground to cover and an alert from Forest Watcher helps them plan their routes and prioritise their resources.

Getting started with Forest Watcher is simple. Just download the app, set up an area of interest and wait for the alerts to arrive.

User testing in Indonesia. Credit: Alyssa Barrett and Rachael Petersen, WRI


When HAkA’s rangers receive an alert, they’ll be able to save the details offline and use Forest Watcher to navigate to the place where forest loss has been detected. Once there, they can save photos and notes to their mobile using a simple reporting form. If it’s not safe to complete the form there and then, it can be done later just by selecting the area on a map.

Life can be dangerous for the people who protect forests. With this in mind, we made speed and accuracy two of the defining features of the Forest Watcher reporting form. One touch of the pink pixel that alerts rangers to potential forest loss opens up a reporting form, and it can be completed in a matter of moments. The first step is to take a photo before answering a few simple questions and adding a note if needed. If forest change is spotted that hasn’t already been detected by Global Forest Watch, it too can be reported with ease.

Field tests with the Kogi indigenous people living in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, demonstrated that Forest Watcher can also accurately detect forest fires. As their patrol team travelled along a coastal highway, they passed several recently burnt areas that had been detected by Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRs) data, and completed the report to verify what damage had occurred.

As requested by the people we interviewed, Forest Watcher uses a standardised data collection protocol but team leaders can customise the reporting form using Forest Watcher Desktop. Every time HAkA’s rangers or the Kogi go on patrol, they’ll be using the same form as the rest of their team, and their reports will sync to their base the moment their mobiles connect to the internet. To keep everything confidential, the team manager is the only person who can see all the reports.

Reports are standardised and easy to complete.


Back at their headquarters, HAkA will be able to use the information they’ve collected to evaluate their conservation efforts and strengthen law enforcement efforts. Since the Forest Watcher reporting protocol is standardised, they’ve also spotted an opportunity to coordinate with other conservation groups and law-enforcement agencies.

With Forest Watcher in their hands, communities, forest guardians, and enforcement agencies have access to the knowledge they need to stop deforestation and hold those responsible to account. Forest Watcher offers an opportunity to increase the capacity and motivation of people who protect ecologically important places, and create a lasting positive impact.

We’re excited that we’ve had this opportunity to build a solution that has such an important role in the protection and conservation of our planet’s forests. Forest Watcher has been made to fit into the lives of those who will use it, and this makes the Global Forest Watch data even more powerful. We can’t wait to hear more stories from the frontline.

Download the Forest Watcher app for free through the Apple App Store or Google PlayStore.