The California Forest Observatory

A dynamic, data-driven platform to inform wildfire risk, emergency operations & forest management decisions

Wildfires are considered natural disasters when they impact communities, but there's nothing natural about the recent megafires in California: long-term fire suppression, rapid development at the wildland interface, an aging utility infrastructure, and climate change have created this catastrophe. Our forests are now a tinderbox of fuel, with people the spark for ignition, and extreme weather fanning the flames.

We need new approaches to risk mapping, mitigation, and forest management in this new era of megafire. Current wildfire risk maps are outdated, coarse, and static. We lack a basic understanding of many forest properties, weather conditions, and wildfire behavior that leave communities underprepared and vulnerable, and put our valuable forests at enormous risk.

Scientists estimate over half of California’s 33 million acres of forest are at high risk of megafire, and many of the state’s iconic forest landscapes could be converted to shrublands or grasslands if we don’t rapidly accelerate the pace and scale of restoration.

Hardening infrastructure, improving defensible space, and powering down the grid on “fire weather” days are important short term strategies, but not enough to protect lives, property, human health, and ecological resilience into the future.

Harnessing data and technology to reveal where and when communities face the greatest risk, supporting the planning and execution of forest resilience strategies

Salo has teamed up with Vibrant Planet and Planet Labs to build the California Forest Observatory. The core of the platform is an AI engine that leverages LIDAR and satellite data to provide a tree-level view of forest structure and fuel loads that scales statewide. It will integrate data on wind and weather, soil and vegetation moisture & population and infrastructure. Combined, these data can capture the complex drivers of wildfire risk, and will be integrated with contemporary wildfire models to provide a real-time, dynamic map of wildfire risk—one that can support both restoration planning and active fire operations.

Project goals

The Observatory is informed by key stakeholders and representative end users

Land managers, leading scientists, Calfire and other emergency services teams, and state agencies managing California’s conservation strategies are being engaged throughout the process of defining, designing and building of the product to ensure it serves the state’s needs.

The Observatory team is made up of world class forest ecologists and remote sensing and AI experts, user experience experts, and award winning cartographers and information designers. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is providing financial support for the beta version of the product and enabling free access for scientists and state and federal agencies.

Development partners

Funding partners

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