As we celebrate Earth Day while practicing social distancing this year, we'll delve into inspiring stories of Humans of IT who leverage their tech superpowers to protect our forests. Read on to learn the story of Zack Parisa, co-founder of SilviaTerra, who went into forestry thinking he'd be spending all his time out in nature. Now, like the rest of us, he's celebrating Earth Day at home and sharing how data, technology and intentional action can help protect our forests now and for years to come.
Meet Zack Parisa.
When Zack Parisa was young, he loved bugs. And animals. And rock formations. And spending summers in a forest near a limestone cave, exploring and discovering. He thought he might become a zoologist or a geologist. After meeting a forester in high school, he knew that whatever he did with his life, it had to be in the ecological sciences. As an adult, he grew interested in how society values and interacts with natural resources. “Our society depends on these resources for everything that we’re engaged in, everything that we build with, everything that we eat,” he says.
Today, he’s the co-founder of SilviaTerra, a company which uses data to help drive decisions about forests. “We help provide information for forest managers,” he says, “people who are charged with making sure forests are healthy and well managed today and for 20, 50, or 100 years into the future.” These decisions impact everything from animal habitats to clean drinking water to consumer goods we rely on every day—like toilet paper, which has become particularly important lately. We often think about forestry management in the field - meaning foresters out in nature working amongst the trees, which is where Zack thought he'd be went he went into forestry. He quickly realized we need to be tackling the challenges at a bigger scale. To better manage the forests of the world, the United States or even just California, we need a different perspective- after all, we simply can't walk all those acres.
That's where data and AI come into play. SilviaTerra uses Microsoft Azure, high-resolution satellite imagery and US Forest Service inventory and analysis field data to train machine-learning models to measure forests. With this data they've built the most comprehensive US forest census ever created. Read more about Zack's journey, how the team is using Azure, or explore the interactive forest data to learn about the impact their work is having.
Here's what the interactive heat map dashboard by SilviaTerra which details the locations of high-risk forest areas looks like:
You can also learn about forests and national parks that you're especially passionate about here:
As the world navigates this unprecedented pandemic, Zack hopes we walk away with a deeper appreciation for products we may have taken for granted: “A roll of toilet paper has a story … it originated in a forest somewhere.” Experiencing scarcity highlights that our natural resources aren’t infinite. They require thoughtful management to survive and thrive in the long-term. “We’re all managers and stewards of these resources,” he says. “They’re passed to us from prior generations and we’ll pass them on to subsequent generations—our kids.
As Humans of IT, we all have a responsibility to use our tech skills and knowledge to help conserve this planet we call home. Get more insights from conservationists like Zack as you celebrate Earth Day at home this year, and learn how you can take action at Microsoft In Culture.
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