Putting Satellite Data to Work in the Amazon

Tracking deforestation from illegal roads near Peru's Sierra Divisor National Park

Peru's Sierra Divisor National Park was approved in 2015 and covers more than 1 million hectares of the some of worlds most remote, biodiverse and carbon rich rainforest. The park's namesake is derived from the unique, rugged chain of mountains that rest on the border of Peru and Brazil. It contains one of Peru's last remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes and the cultural and environmental value of the area is impossible to quantify.

Unfortunately, deforestation is growing towards the boundaries of the park. The remote terrain and a lack of government resources to physically restrict access to the park renders it vulnerable to illegal activity. This means that the Peruvian National Protected Areas Service (SERNANP) needs to find effective ways to detect and confront threats to the park before they undermine the irreplaceable resources within the park's boundary.

GLAD Alerts:

The Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) and SERNANP continuously review satellite imagery and Global Use And Discovery (GLAD) alerts in and around the Sierra Divisor National Park in Peru park to identify deforestation threats and determine where to intervene. GLAD alerts are generated by the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland, and then adapted to a user-friendly international land use monitoring system by the World Resources Institute's Global Forest Watch platform, as well as the Peruvian Ministry of Environment's Geobosques system. This allows the public to analyze near real-time evidence of deforestation online. 

Recent satellite alerts revealed multiple areas of recent deforestation and 'forest roads' emerging along the northern edge of the park. In particular, RFUS and SERNANP noted a growing forest road in the area referred to as 'Cinco Unidas,' where a logging company, Consorcio Maderero SAC, has been in operation for many years in approved forest concessions. However, local communities and SERNANP have long suspected that the company was also taking wood from other areas and potentially the national park as well. 

Illegal forest roads are a major driver of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon. Rainforest Foundation USA and others can discover these clandestine roads by analyzing GLAD alerts over time.


Satellite imagery with GLAD alerts (in red) and indigenous territories








GLAD alerts illustrate how forest roads expand over time

Hitting the Ground:

As a part of a strategic partnership, SERNANP and RFUS responded to this emergent data by visiting the local communities and groundtruthing (verifying via drone imagery and in-person footage and GPS coordinates) the road expansion. The joint team went into the field with GLAD alert spatial information loaded onto GPS smart phones, as well as drones, cameras, audio recorders and field forms specially designed to capture key information about Peruvian environmental crimes.

Logging was immediately obvious, as were the brand new roads that provide access to huge new swaths of forest for illegal logging and other illegal deforestation. The teams spent two days documenting the invasions, and validated the GLAD Alerts by finding several kilometers of illegal forest roads and other deforestation.

Just north of 
the park...

GLAD Alerts 
warn of possible

GLAD alerts showed a potential illegal road in early 2018

use drones to
confirm illegal 
road and activities 

Community monitors flew drones to GLAD alert coordinates to confirm and document the illegal road in mid 2018

Taking Action:

The first step in taking action against illegal logging is presenting the findings to the local communities impacted by the activities. Ultimately, it is these communities that will need to verify and document the GLAD alerts and decide how they would like to confront them. Using smart phone applications that program maps and GLAD alerts, such as Global Forest Watcher, communities can geo-reference photos and information taken on the ground. 

In this case, the community decided to work with RFUS and SERNANP to file a formal complaint about the illegal deforestation. 

The communities along the Ucayali river near the Sierra Divisor National Park are now monitoring the area to ensure that the road does not increase in size and have also reported coca growing to Peruvian authorities. 

Small-scale land 
clearing causes 
about 82% of
in Peru

7-day GLAD alerts 
allow civil society 
and Peruvian authorities 
to pinpoint threats.

Threats are verified 
using GPS smart-
phones, then uploaded 
to a public database.

Verified threats trigger
state intervention in
illegal logging.

Rainforest Foundation's works at the intersection of local communities, state authorities and technology (eg GLAD alerts and GPS smartphones). This allows us to be fast and effective at stopping deforestation where it matters most.

Supporting local forest communities with satellite information and technology to verify deforestation has proven to be a catalyst for local action. It spurs more efficient and effective interventions by linking civil society to authorities such as SERNANP, who have limited resources to patrol and control the vast areas of vulnerable rainforest that they are responsible to protect. Together, local communities and front-line Peruvian authorities can protect the Peruvian rainforests with this information and technology.