January - April is the dry season in Panama and the time of year Wounaan communities face the most significant threats to their territories: the invasion, illegal logging and deforestation of their forests, and forest fires.
Two years ago, Native Future and the Wounaan National Congress launched the Territorial Alerts map which uses satellite data from University of Maryland's Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) alerts and NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management (FIRMS) system to detect these threats to Wounaan territories and report them to Panama's Ministry of Environment, known as Mi Ambiente in Spanish. Although Mi Ambiente's response to Wounaan complaints of illegal logging and deforestation has improved significantly this year, their capacity to respond to forest fire in this region has not.
Wounaan decided they want to be prepared to respond to forest fires, when they occur. Therefore, February 2-4, 2023, with US Forest Service International Programs support and expertise, 24 volunteer brigadistas from three Wounaan communities - Rio Hondo, Platanares and Majé - received a first, introductory training in combatting forest fires. Representatives from the communities of Aruza and Puerto Lara also attended. The three-day Forest Fire Prevention and Control training was led by US Forest Service International Programs Wildland Fire Management Specialists, Trevor Long and Nazario Valladares.
In the trainings, participants discussed the history and threats of forest fire in their communities, and shared fire management practices that Wounaan traditionally practice, such as creating fire breaks and burning at particular times of the day.
The training went on to introduce the participants to basic fire behavior and management concepts such as the interaction of weather, topography and fuels, the parts of a forest fire, and natural and human-made lines of control. Personal safety is the foremost objective of any fire fighting effort; therefore, participants received personal protective equipment, basic training in the incident command system (ICS) and communications.
By day, three, they were ready (and eager) to practice! "We want to see live fire!", they had said at the start of the workshop. The trainers set up a simulation and the brigadistas went to work, planning their attack, communicating between brigades, cutting fire breaks and liquidating the fire. They saw live fire, and they put it out.
This is the first of what we expect to be regular fire management and forest fire prevention and control trainings supported by our cooperative agreement with the US Forest Service International Programs. Doing so, is another way Native Future can support Wounaan communities to address the threats that come with the dry months in Panama, each year.