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Online center will track deforestation

The Ashland-based Geos Institute and the Conservation Biology Institute in Corvallis are teaming up to create an online center to track deforestation around the world.

Known as the Global Forest Information Center, it will be on the Internet in a data-sharing system known as Data Basin — databasin.org — developed by the CBI in 2010. The conservation institutes recently received a $50,000 grant from a private foundation to start building the cyberspace center, initially focusing on intact forests in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

The information, including maps, is expected to be available to policy makers, land managers and the public beginning this fall. Plans call for branching out beyond the Northwest forests to include intact forests worldwide within three years.

"The main purpose of the center is to tap into the information revolution to send out alarm bells about the world's rapidly dwindling intact forests while there is still time to protect these irreplaceable gems," said Dominick DellaSala, a forest ecologist who is the chief scientist as well as president of the Geos Institute.

"This is a natural progression from the work we did last year to document the global importance of the world's most threatened rainforests," added DellaSala, who will be the center's project director.

The forestry database also fits CBI's goals, said Jim Strittholt, president and executive director.

"It is our intent to team with scientists, agencies, land managers and anyone else having an interest in tracking land-use changes and providing shared solutions to the world's growing environmental problems," he said.

DellaSala and Strittholt co-founded the new center. The institutes plan to raise about $1 million to complete the center in three years.

The Northwest forests were selected to begin the project because of their pivotal role in stabilizing the global climate and providing fresh water for fish and people, DellaSala said. Moreover, they contain some of the most carbon-dense old-growth forests in the temperate zone and are threatened by proposed increases in logging, he said.

Intact forests are large areas without roads and have never been logged, DellaSala said.

"Less than half the forests in the world are still intact," he said. "We will distinguish unlogged forests from logged forests."

The latter should be the focal point for jobs, using a reforestation approach, he said.

The institutes will rely on thousands of scientific assessments as well as satellite imagery to track global deforestation, he said. The center will produce "State-of-the Nation Forest Reports" that monitor the vital signs of forests, he said, noting that includes their ability to provide fresh water, air purification and healthy wildlife habitat.

"The idea is focusing attention on our dwindling intact forest to motivate people and governments to respect what is left," DellaSala said.

In the last decade, global deforestation rates have averaged 50,000 square miles each year, according to DellaSala and Strittholt. In comparison, Oregon covers some 98,390 square miles.

Paul Fattig is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4496 or by email at pfattig@mailtribune.com.