#MapMonday: Habitat Patrol

Micheal Evans, our Conservation Data Scientist, guest hosts the first #MapMonday of 2021. This episode looks at the Habitat Patrol tool - a free, public web application that lets users run algorithms developed by the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife to automatically identify habitat loss using satellite imagery. You can check out Habitat Patrol here.

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Video Transcript: Mike: Hi everyone, and welcome to another edition of #MapMonday !

I’m Mike Evans, the Senior Conservation Data Scientist at the Center for Conservation Innovation.

And today I want to share a really cool new tool called Habitat Patrol that we built. It’s not a map per se, but it does use maps and other spatial data so that anyone can monitor wildlife habitat from space.

Laws like the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) provide protections for imperiled species and critical habitats, but these laws are only as strong as our ability to enforce them. And in the past this involved the tedious, expensive, and time consuming process of going out to survey locations that are protected on the ground. With tens of thousands of conservation agreements under the ESA, that kind of monitoring just isn’t practical.

That’s why we created Habitat Patrol - a new app that lets users automatically monitor specific areas of their choosing using satellite imagery and machine learning algorithms. Habitat Patrol uses the Google Earth Engine platform to access, process, and analyze freely available satellite images that are collected every 5 days. Without this platform, this kind of work would not be possible. And Defenders has developed methods that use the data that is stored in these satellite images to automatically identify drastic changes between two images that are taken from the same place on earth at two different times. And in this way, automatically detect important losses to critical habitat or places that are important to imperiled species.

So, enough talking. Let’s check out Habitat Patrol in action. And for that I want to hand it over to one of our application developers, Sasha Patsel.

Sasha: Thanks Mike. So to demonstrate how this app works we’ll take a look at Redding, California and the wildfire that happened there in 2018 as an example to verify change over a certain period of time.

So Habitat Patrol is actually extremely easy to use. All it takes it clicking on the polygon tool right here, drawing an area of interest, and then selecting dates that we want to see change happen between.

When an analysis in Habitat Patrol is finished you’ll see three different tiles rendered to your screen. Two of those will be satellite images - one showing the landscape area at the early date range and another at the later date range. The third tile will show you what changed in between those two times. And you’ll see those as purple polygons on your screen.

So now that we’ve seen the app in action - I just wanted to take a moment to quickly mention a couple of features we have coming up soon. One is going to be the ability to dynamically add in species’ critical habitat and ranges into the app and then run the analysis on those rather than having to draw an area ourselves by hand. Another feature we have coming is going to be the ability to export screenshots of all three of those tiles that we mentioned. So that you can take your time to analyze each in turn.

And with that - back to you Mike.

Mike: Thanks Sasha. That was really cool to see Habitat Patrol in action, and see how the tool identified real landcover changes on the ground.

Now fortunately, the places that Sasha was looking at didn’t have any illegal habitat loss going on, but we’ve been able to use Habitat Patrol in the past to identify, measure, and report when these types of changes occur.

For instance, here in west Texas, we were able to quantify losses to the dune sagebrush lizard’s habitat due to sand mining between June and August of 2018.

We also used Habitat Patrol to detect habitat loss within the range of the lesser prairie chicken due to oil and gas drilling here in west Kansas.

In both this case, and the case of the dunes sagebrush lizard, we were able to submit the data and the changes that we detected to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who are using this information to determine whether these species require additional protections under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center of Conservation Innovation built Habitat Patrol to put the power of satellite imagery in the hands of the public, conservationists, regulatory agencies, and anyone else that cares about protecting wildlife habitat.

To check up on the status of a place or landscape that you care about, check out the tool yourself.

Thanks for watching, and we’ll see you next time on the next edition of #MapMonday.

Michael Evans
Senior Conservation Data Scientist

As a Senior Conservation Data Scientist in the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Mike leads geoinformatics and data science projects to inform and improve conservation.