Oct 20, 2022 - World

Drones vs. deforesters: The battle to save the Amazon

A person pilots a low-flying drone while another person stands on in the Amazon rainforest

A forest guard and an NGO worker during a training with drones in July 2022. Photo: Uári Skilo/WWF-Brasil

The use of drones to battle deforestation in the Amazon has helped Indigenous communities and local authorities fend off loggers and avoid dangerous confrontations.

Why it matters: Deforestation in the world’s largest rainforest is at record levels this year, with losses roughly three times the size of the area Houston, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

  • That’s mostly due to illegal logging, mining and clearing of trees for cattle.
  • The losses mean less carbon dioxide is absorbed from the atmosphere, which affects the entire planet.

Background: Indigenous communities and local agencies have been fighting the problem for decades.

  • But doing so is complicated in such a vast area. It can also be dangerous, with a rise in armed attacks from illegal miners and loggers last year.

State of play: A program by the Brazilian office of the World Wildlife Fund began providing drones and training to groups like the Mundurukú and Jupau peoples as well as to local police forces in September 2019.

  • Since then, local authorities have issued more fines against illegal loggers, ranchers and miners, according to the WWF.
  • Indigenous groups have also been able to avoid confrontations that can turn violent.

How it works: The tribes and police get training on how to pilot the drones and then digest data from their footage to map the most affected areas; how to prepare legal cases; and how to train others.

  • The WWF Brazil has issued over 40 drones since the start of the program, said Osvaldo Gajardo, a conservation specialist with the organization.
  • It hopes to distribute 10 more drones by the end of next year, budget and international funding permitting, he said.

What they’re saying: “We see that if technology is used well it can empower the communities to be able to monitor the area in a more effective and safe way with concrete proof of illegal activities in their land that later on can be used for advocacy or making legal cases…” said Felipe Spina, conservation analyst for WWF Brazil.

  • “And if they’re given the means to independently manage this information and generate their own data it can be critical to help them defend their territories.”
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