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Territorial alerts map helps Wounaan halt illegal logging

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

Deforestation in Aruza caused by illegal logging

In early March 2021, upon updating the newly developed territorial alerts map, Native Future’s volunteer GIS Technician, Clay Mosolino, noticed deforestation occurring innear-immediateside the Wounaan territory of Aruza. He quickly notified the Territorial Monitoring Coordinator of the Foundation for the Development of the Wounaan People (FUNDEPW) who had heard several rumors of deforestation going on in Aruza and wanted Clay to verify. The Coordinator then mobilized community monitors to go verify the alerts. The alerts shown on the map, totaling an estimated 14.5 hectares, led the team of Wounaan technicians to loggers and logging activities on the far side of their territory, an area they would not have known was threatened without the remote monitoring. The technicians ground-truthed the alerts, which corresponded almost exactly to the GPS points on the map.

The maps show the tracks of forest monitors (green) who walked approximately 3 miles from their community to investigate the reports of timber harvesting inside the northwest border of Aruza. Forest monitors tracked the route of the loggers (red) and identified the stands of trees that had been harvested.

On the ground, the Coordinator and the community monitors collected photographic evidence of the illegal extraction of trees inside their territory and submitted an environmental complaint

(denuncia) on March 24 to the Panamanian authorities. Their complaint cites illegal logging, solid waste littering, contamination of their rivers, and the expressed threat of the logger to burn the land to clear it further. Rapid communication by the Territorial Monitoring Coordinator with the Ministry of Environment’s Environmental Intelligence Office resulted in a near immediate response by the Ministry of Environment who sent a team out to investigate the next week.

Aruza was the first case of a successful application of the territorial alerts map by Wounaan community-based monitors that resulted in the submission of an environmental complaint and rapid response by Panama’s environmental authorities.

Since then, Wounaan authorities have submitted 8 denuncias to the Ministry of Environment, adding up to 147 hectares of deforestation in the communities of Rio Hondo, Platanares, Maje, and Aruza and an estimated $44,000 worth of damage. Wounaan lawyers and leaders are stewarding the complaints through their legal process and leading site visits with the Ministry of Environment and other Panamanian governmental institutions to inspect deforestation.

Ministry of Environment officials and Wounaan technicians inspect the trees cut from the territory of Aruza.

In January 2021, Native Future, the Wounaan National Congress, and FUNDEPW launched the territorial alerts map to monitor Wounaan territories. The map uses GLAD (Global Land Analysis and Discovery) alerts from the University of Maryland that are updated weekly. These alerts register changes in forest canopy cover analyzed from Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 satellite imagery. Although GLAD alerts alone are not an accurate method of determining the extent and degree of forest change in an area, they are a critically important tool to the work of Indigenous monitors and lawyers who are working to halt it before it expands.

Thank you to the International Conservation Fund of Canada for supporting this important work!

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