Michael Walch

Light touch, big impact

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 12 February, 2010

Big ideas can come in small packages.  I’ve posted previously about the Jauaperi Project on the Rio Negro River North of Manaus, where a communication satellite and solar panels were installed in a conservation forest.  The infrastructure itself is small, but the impact is huge – the community uses it for education, commerce, and medical information, as well as a data link to collaborating researchers at the University of Amazonas in Manaus.

Inherent to being an outsider in a foreign place is the blending of the imported and the local.  For this project, I’m considering what building components and technology could be brought into the forest, and combined with local materials, to provide access and monitoring of the forest.

Access

Access is an open-ended term – it can be both physical and abstract.  I’ve often heard expressions along the lines of ‘If you love the wilderness, don’t go…’  The definition of wilderness is problematic generally, because, as I’m finding out in the Amazon, people have been living in and cultivating the rain forest for millennia.  Accepting that humans are in the rain forest then begs the question of their appropriate level of access to its resources, balanced against the needs of both the flora and fauna of the forest, but also other humans.  This is clearly a gradient condition, where extraction and resource utilization is necessary, but must be monitored.

As an example of one approach, here are the levels of access for the different forest classifications of the Brazilian Forestry Code, as of 2006:

Monitoring

Monitoring is very specific, and different from research in important ways.  Monitoring is the gathering of data.  I’ve been very interested in the Citizen Science movement, which recently has been associated with species identification at Cornell, although it has hundreds of years of history.  The Citizen Science project attempts to capture the wealth of knowledge all around us, with the simple premise that anyone can gather valid data.  The have had tremendous success because they have found that, with some attention to methodology, people are willing to contribute if you just ask them.

The bird-watcher walking around with standardized forms is an obvious example.  What I found more intriguing was that 60% of hunters, when asked, we happy to submit a part of their hunted game (literally, a limb such as a bird-wing) for identification.  Hunters get a bad rap for many of the same reasons loggers do – the directness of their extraction of natural resources goes against the abstract ideas we have of the source of our food, wood, and other forest products.  Of course there are hunters (and loggers) who don’t care about the forests they hunt, but there are clearly also those who do.

Flonas

In the past five years or so, the Brazilian government has been very interested in establishing sustainably-harvested forests as an approach to conservation.  Through careful study, much of the legal amazon has been divided up amongst the categories in the matrix above, but one of the more interesting ones is “sustainable management” forests, or flonas.

The flonas are identified based on studies of biodiversity and conservation sensitivity, resource availability and economic value, and even travel distance.  As odd as it is in terms of habitat, the forest is highly politicized and these borders define conservation units, and these are the basic units of national forest management.  Clearly, they need to be monitored.

Data Forest – Monitoring the Flonas

In thinking about how to monitor the resources of (and their extraction from) the forest, it is important to acknowledge and work with the wealth of knowledge of the forest itself – patterns in the structure, organization, and relationships of the plants and animals (including humans).  Additionally, though, we will be bringing in advanced machinery and industrial technology in order to harvest from the forest, so it seems only right that we should bring it in order to understand and conserve it.

I am starting to think through the construction of a prototypical monitoring post as a point within a national forest communication network.  The monitoring post will assist in a cataloging and mapping of the forest, as well as a locus for services and some form of enforcement of the forestry code.

Tensegrity

Three major precedents will inform my coming tectonic studies

Here are the drawing studies so far… more photos and drawings to come soon:

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