Legendary undercover investigators protect forests | Stories


Since the 1980s, Sumatra has been clearing its forests at a breakneck pace, largely for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Eyes on the Forest was founded in 2004 in Riau Province–the epicenter of the deforestation–to expose that destruction to the world.

The group has since become legendary. Through detective work, photography, satellite imagery, and, more recently, drone footage, EoF has produced a slew of investigative reports detailing Sumatra’s deforestation, as well as the political and corporate corruption driving it.

Their investigations have helped land six Indonesian government officials in jail, including a former governor of Riau Province. EoF reports were key to a campaign against Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world’s largest paper companies with a deforestation legacy of more than 2 million hectares, that forced APP to pledge to stop pulping tiger habitat to make toilet paper. Google lent them assistance to develop a cutting-edge online map that tracks deforestation and deforestation drivers like APP. Eyes on the Forest uses satellite imagery NASA provides freely to the public and WWF-Indonesia is a part of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s science initiative to test their radar satellite images.

EoF’s investigations have long focused on Sumatra’s Riau Province. In 2014, the group expanded its network to Borneo as several NGOs established a consortium; and in 2015 the network was redeveloped as Kalimantan’s Eyes on the Forest network. In 2016, EoF was asked to open a new network in Sumatra’s Jambi Province, to monitor loss of the vulnerable forests of Thirty Hills.

“WWF-Indonesia and partners had just secured a concession there to protect a big chunk of forest outside Thirty Hills National Park,” says Jan Vertefeuille, head of wildlife conservation advocacy for WWF-US. “And we believed that encroachers had cleared some of the forest in the concession while we were waiting to get the license. Eyes on the Forest brought the model they developed in Riau for use in monitoring the concession.”

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