Roadlessness as a Conservation Measure

In mid 2012, Google was approached by Kriton Arsenis, a Member of the European Parliament and its rapporteur on forests. He made the point that keeping an area roadless means that a territory is shielded against deforestation pressures. This provided an incentive for Google to investigate. Google buffered their road map by 10 km and so was able to create a map of areas less subject to deforestation pressures. Google quite rightly has a number of caveats with the map, and did point out that users can use its MapMaker product can be used to notify Google of incorrect data.

Projects like this highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of GIS. On the one hand they can inspire people to think differently about problems, but on the other, in the hands of the lazy, such maps can be promoted as being correct.

The big flaw with this type of project is that the roads in those areas most subject to conservation pressures are generally the least likely to be mapped.  Its difficult to imagine companies undertaking illegal logging being interested in notifying mapping authorities about their illegal roads. Aside from that, many counties mapping agencies are underfunded, and lack the internet infrastructure that would allow the use of products like Google MapMaker. So, hats-off to Google for undertaking this project, but at the same time, the need to question the accuracy of maps is a lesson for all of us to heed.

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