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Illustration by Julie Flett

The World Resources Institute, in partnership with Google and 40 other organizations, revealed a new online tool in February that empowers more people than ever to monitor the health of the world’s forests.

The tool, called Global Forest Watch, leverages the latest in satellite and crowdsourcing technology. “Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now they have it,” said WRI president and chief executive Andrew Steer.

Steer said his hope is that the tool will change the way people and businesses manage forests. “From now on,” he said, “the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”

The world lost 2.3 million square kilometres of tree cover from 2000 to 2012, according to data from Google and the University of Maryland. That, said WRI, is the equivalent of 50 soccer fields lost every minute over the past 12 years.

Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Russia and the United States have the highest tree cover losses.

The tool lets users analyse and download annual tree cover loss data for the entire globe in high resolution, and will offer monthly loss data for more tropical regions. Analytical tools will allow users to isolate protected areas, biodiversity hotspots, and areas affected by logging, mining and palm oil activities.

It can also send out daily forest fire alerts, or alerts when evidence of forest loss is detected.

“Buyers of major commodities such as palm oil, soy, timber, and beef can better monitor compliance with laws, sustainability commitments, and standards,” said WRI.

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