What if Microsoft put its awesome technological shoulder to the conservation wheel in the Nisqually River Watershed?
When it comes to generating novel ideas for conservation, sometimes what it takes is getting enough bright, diverse minds into the same room – or even better, the same forest.
To that end, Microsoft’s Environmental Sustainability Team visited the Land Trust’s Gateway Forest Reserve on a radiant blue-sky day in mid-October.
Over the past two years, Microsoft and the Land Trust partnered to complete the first carbon-credit transaction in the Pacific Northwest. That transaction helped protect habitat for at least fifteen “at risk” species in the Reserve and was the equivalent of taking 6,600 carbon-emitting cars off the road.
Joined by project partners from the Land Trust, the Washington Environment Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Western Ecology Division, and Natural Capital Partners, the Microsoft team visited the carbon-project site it purchased credits from. It also toured the Nisqually Community Forest project – a site for potential future carbon projects and a target area for salmon recovery.
The brainstorming started deep in the forest:
- How can Microsoft technology be leveraged to maximize conservation efforts for threatened Chinook salmon and steelhead trout?
- What if fish-population monitoring can be completely automated, with computer vision providing instant species identification?
- What if dynamic land-cover mapping can be completed in minutes, so that conservation efforts can be geographically targeted to have greatest impact?
The potential is enormous. The Nisqually Watershed is a conservation incubator – small watershed, big ideas. We try to develop innovative conservation tools that work here at home but can be applied elsewhere as well.
Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Scientist, explained that artificial intelligence can perhaps best be thought of as “massive cloud-storage capacity, massive computational capacity.” Landscape-scale conservation efforts require data-heavy monitoring and modeling, and AI’s massive capacity can be harnessed to enable these efforts.
We will continue to explore collaborative opportunities to increase the speed and scope of conservation. Last year, the Mashel River, the largest tributary of the Nisqually River, was designated federal critical habitat for Nisqually steelhead, which are just a few bad years from extinction. Technological innovation is more important than ever if we hope to keep our working forests productive while also increasing the benefits they provide to our threatened species.
Microsoft’s Environmental Sustainability Team along with partners from the Land Trust, the Washington Environment Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Western Ecology Division, and Natural Capital Partners toured our Gateway Forest Reserve and our carbon project site.
Photo provided by Bonnie Lei from Microsoft