• Clay Mosolino

Wounaan have a new forest monitoring tool

Since 2016, a team of Wounaan forest technicians have been monitoring twelve Wounaan territories to protect them from deforestation. Their work consists of collecting geo-positioned data and compiling detailed reports which are submitted to Panama’s government when legal action needs to be taken. But the data the technicians collect isn’t just about forest loss. It captures territorial conflicts, threats to culturally important plants and animals, and the status of community points of interest. The condition of these areas and the data these technicians collect is key to the wellbeing of Wounaan communities and their forest landscapes.


Since the coronavirus pandemic began public health measures that keep individuals safe from COVID-19 have affected how forest monitoring technicians perform their jobs. Many of their responsibilities require community and government meetings to investigate territorial disputes and forest disturbances. Traveling is required to report their findings, do special patrols, and attend capacity building trainings. However, with travel bans and restrictions on group size, the technicians are limited in how much they can do.


Realizing that limited mobility and communication was affecting forest monitoring efforts, Native Future began searching for alternative ways to support Wounaan to monitor their territories while decreasing their risk of contracting COVID-19. This year another tool has been added to the forest technicians’ toolbox - a territorial alerts web map.


Forest technicians walking through a cattle pasture to investigate reported forest loss.

Photo by Donalds Negria Membache






The territorial alerts map helps Wounaan authorities and technicians remotely detect forest loss and active fires in or near their territories. It uses publicly provided data provided by Global Forest Watch. Forest cover loss data comes from the Global Land Analysis and Discovery

(GLAD) alerts system from the University of Maryland. Fire alerts come from the new VIIRS active fires data system as part of NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS). Both GLAD and VIIRS data use advanced satellite imagery technology and sophisticated forest loss and fire detection algorithms. Technicians can use this near real-time data in combination with local reports from residents to investigate cases and reduce the time and travel it takes to discover when and locate where deforestation and fire occur. And the map may eventually highlight the status of the cases of deforestation that have been reported to the government.


The extent of the web map with VIIRS active fires and 2020 GLAD forest loss alerts displayed.


The territorial alerts web map is one way we are helping Wounaan to monitor and bring attention to the threats to their forests during this pandemic. Thank you US

Forest Service International Programs for supporting this important work.





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