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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Monitoring impacts of energy development on forests must be improved

I’ve blogged frequently on the topics of landscape-level and cumulative impacts of energy development.  Second and third only to climate disruption, they are defining environmental issues of our times.  Landscape-level planning is needed to minimize these impacts, and much more intensive monitoring of these impacts by governments and regulators is a must. One way to accomplish that is through development of remote-sensing tools, techniques, and programs. 

A new study by Canadian researchers that’s been published in Land discusses these issues in the context of forested ecosystems.

Earth-observation and characterization of anthropogenic disturbance regimes of forests will become requisites for understanding global patterns of forest use during the Anthropocene. The substantial increase in energy development and consumption over recent decades, and in particular fossil fuels, will likely undermine ecosystem-based management of forested ecosystems. Several ecological components have already been exacerbated by energy development including biodiversity and habitat loss. The current state of knowledge of energy development in forests is primarily limited to persistent linear corridors and surface mining. As the number of in situ projects rapidly increase in forested ecosystems, research programs should focus on the non-discrete impacts of energy development. Moreover, research into the monitoring of pipeline impacts to forested ecosystems will be critical during this decade of new expansions. 
To date, the majority of impacts of oil and gas activities have been characterized by research from outside the industry...The development of a planning framework that brings all stakeholders together will be a necessary first step towards mitigating the negative impacts on multiple use landscapes undergoing rapid energy development. 
“You can't manage what you don't measure” is an adage that applies here.  The embrace of remote sensing tools by regulators – and a commitment to their programmatic use, and translation into landscape-level planning requirements - is essential to conserving and protecting natural resources that are being placed at existential risk by a wave of resource extraction that, in Pennsylvania’s case, at least, will dwarf all previous resource extraction eras combined.  

Fortunately, the path to this essential work is well lit.  Superb change agents like and are demonstrating the power – and the necessity – of remote sensing to understand the impacts of our activity on our fragile globe.

Will this great work be heeded?

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