IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The perils of misusing remote sensing data: The case of forest cover


  • Fergusson, L
  • Saavedra, S
  • Vargas, J. F


Research on deforestation has grown exponentially due to the availability of satellitebased measures of forest cover. One of the most popular is Global Forest Change (GFC). Using GFC, we estimate that the Colombian civil conflict increases ‘forest cover’. Using an alternative source that validates the same remote sensing images in the ground, we find the opposite effect. This occurs because, in spite of its name, GFC measures tree cover, including vegetation other than native forest. Most users of GFC seem unaware of this. In our case, most of the conflicting results are explained by GFC’s misclassification of oil palm crops as ‘forest’. Our findings call for caution when using automated classification of imagery for specific research questions.

Suggested Citation

  • Fergusson, L & Saavedra, S & Vargas, J. F, 2020. "The perils of misusing remote sensing data: The case of forest cover," Documentos de Trabajo 18153, Universidad del Rosario.
  • Handle: RePEc:col:000092:018153

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chervier, Colas & Costedoat, Sébastien, 2017. "Heterogeneous Impact of a Collective Payment for Environmental Services Scheme on Reducing Deforestation in Cambodia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 148-159.
    2. Cunha, Felipe Arias Fogliano de Souza & Börner, Jan & Wunder, Sven & Cosenza, Carlos Alberto Nunes & Lucena, André F.P., 2016. "The implementation costs of forest conservation policies in Brazil," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 209-220.
    3. Jorge Restrepo & Michael Spagat & Juan Vargas, 2004. "The Dynamics of the Columbian Civil Conflict: A New Dataset," Homo Oeconomicus, Institute of SocioEconomics, vol. 21, pages 396-429.
    4. Gallemore, Caleb & Jespersen, Kristjan, 2016. "Transnational Markets for Sustainable Development Governance: The Case of REDD+," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 79-94.
    5. Gibson, John, 2018. "Forest Loss and Economic Inequality in the Solomon Islands: Using Small-Area Estimation to Link Environmental Change to Welfare Outcomes," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 66-76.
    6. Blackman, Allen & Goff, Leonard & Rivera Planter, Marisol, 2018. "Does eco-certification stem tropical deforestation? Forest Stewardship Council certification in Mexico," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 306-333.
    7. Jung, Suhyun & Polasky, Stephen, 2018. "Partnerships to prevent deforestation in the Amazon," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 498-516.
    8. Jennifer M. Alix-Garcia & Katharine R. E. Sims & Patricia Yañez-Pagans, 2015. "Only One Tree from Each Seed? Environmental Effectiveness and Poverty Alleviation in Mexico's Payments for Ecosystem Services Program," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 1-40, November.
    9. Damania, Richard & Russ, Jason & Wheeler, David & Barra, Alvaro Federico, 2018. "The Road to Growth: Measuring the Tradeoffs between Economic Growth and Ecological Destruction," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 351-376.
    10. Song, Xiao-Peng, 2018. "Global Estimates of Ecosystem Service Value and Change: Taking Into Account Uncertainties in Satellite-based Land Cover Data," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 143(C), pages 227-235.
    11. Cook, Nathan J. & Wright, Glenn D. & Andersson, Krister P., 2017. "Local Politics of Forest Governance: Why NGO Support Can Reduce Local Government Responsiveness," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 203-214.
    12. Julia Berazneva & Tanya S. Byker, 2017. "Does Forest Loss Increase Human Disease? Evidence from Nigeria," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(5), pages 516-521, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Shang Xu & H. Allen Klaiber & Daniela A. Miteva, 2023. "Impacts of forest conservation on local agricultural labor supply: Evidence from the Indonesian forest moratorium," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 105(3), pages 940-965, May.
    2. Isabelle Chort & Berk Öktem, 2024. "Agricultural shocks, coping policies and deforestation: Evidence from the coffee leaf rust epidemic in Mexico," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 106(3), pages 1020-1057, May.
    3. Bhattacharjee, Arnab & Aravena, Claudia & Castillo, Natalia & Ehrlich, Marco & Taou, Nadia & Wagner, Thomas, 2022. "Agroforestry Programs in the Colombian Amazon: Selection, Treatment and Exposure Effects on Deforestation," National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) Discussion Papers 537, National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
    4. Ito, Junichi & Feuer, Hart N. & Kitano, Shinichi & Asahi, Haruka, 2019. "Assessing the effectiveness of Japan's community-based direct payment scheme for hilly and mountainous areas," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 160(C), pages 62-75.
    5. Brandt, Jodi S. & Nolte, Christoph & Agrawal, Arun, 2018. "Deforestation and timber production in Congo after implementation of sustainable management policy: A response to Karsenty et al. (2017)," Land Use Policy, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 375-378.
    6. Salemi, Colette, 2021. "Refugee camps and deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 152(C).
    7. Rico-Straffon, Jimena & Wang, Zhenhua & Panlasigui, Stephanie & Loucks, Colby J. & Swenson, Jennifer & Pfaff, Alexander, 2023. "Forest concessions and eco-certifications in the Peruvian Amazon: Deforestation impacts of logging rights and logging restrictions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 118(C).
    8. Isabelle Chort & Berk Öktem, 2023. "Agricultural shocks, coping policies and deforestation: evidence from the coffee leaf rust epidemic in mexico," Working Papers hal-03715600, HAL.
    9. Sims, Katharine R.E. & Alix-Garcia, Jennifer M., 2017. "Parks versus PES: Evaluating direct and incentive-based land conservation in Mexico," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 8-28.
    10. Chervier, Colas & Le Velly, Gwenolé & Ezzine-de-Blas, Driss, 2019. "When the Implementation of Payments for Biodiversity Conservation Leads to Motivation Crowding-out: A Case Study From the Cardamoms Forests, Cambodia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 499-510.
    11. Alexander Cotte Poveda, 2012. "Estimating Effectiveness of the Control of Violence and Socioeconomic Development in Colombia: An Application of Dynamic Data Envelopment Analysis and Data Panel Approach," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 105(3), pages 343-366, February.
    12. Bird, Julia & Straub, Stéphane, 2020. "The Brasília experiment: The heterogeneous impact of road access on spatial development in Brazil," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 127(C).
    13. Yokessa, Maïmouna & Marette, Stéphan, 2019. "A Review of Eco-labels and their Economic Impact," International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics, now publishers, vol. 13(1-2), pages 119-163, April.
    14. Jean-Marc Blazy & Julie Subervie & Jacky Paul & François Causeret & Loic Guinde & Sarah Moulla & Alban Thomas & Jorge Sierra, 2020. "Ex ante assessment of the cost-effectiveness of Agri-Environmental Schemes promoting compost use to sequester carbon in soils in Guadeloupe," CEE-M Working Papers hal-02748634, CEE-M, Universtiy of Montpellier, CNRS, INRA, Montpellier SupAgro.
    15. Noah Kaiser & Christina K. Barstow, 2022. "Rural Transportation Infrastructure in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Review of Impacts, Implications, and Interventions," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(4), pages 1-48, February.
    16. Driss Ezzine-de-Blas & Céline Dutilly & José-Alberto Lara-Pulido & Gwenolé Le Velly & Alejando Guevara-Sanginés, 2016. "Payments for Environmental Services in a Policymix: Spatial and Temporal Articulation in Mexico," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 11(4), pages 1-15, April.
    17. Mounu Prem & Juan F. Vargas & Olga Namen, 2023. "The Human Capital Peace Dividend," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 58(3), pages 962-1002.
    18. Carlo Fezzi & Mauro Derek J. Ford & Kirsten L.L. Oleson, 2022. "The economic value of coral reefs: climate change impacts and spatial targeting of restoration measures," DEM Working Papers 2022/5, Department of Economics and Management.
    19. Luiza M Karpavicius & Ariaster Chimeli, 2023. "Forest Protection and Human Health: The Case of Malaria in the Brazilian Amazon," Working Papers, Department of Economics 2023_08, University of São Paulo (FEA-USP), revised 26 Jul 2023.
    20. Sarfaraz Hashemkhani Zolfani & Seyed Mostafa Hedayatnezhad Kashi & Saba Baharvandi, 2022. "The Assessment of Ecological Livability for Agricultural, Pasture, Forestry, Residential, and Tourism Activities; Study Area: North of Iran," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(19), pages 1-26, October.

    More about this item


    Forest Cover; Conflict; Measurement.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • Q23 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Forestry
    • Q34 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation - - - Natural Resources and Domestic and International Conflicts

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:col:000092:018153. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Facultad de Economía (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.