While international agreements and regulations exist to stop deforestation in the Amazon, the reality on the ground is that illegal logging (for timber) and deforestation (for agriculture) continue.
In 2014, in order to compensate for the lack of local forest monitoring, we set up a project of GPS forest community watch on several hotspots of illegal logging and deforestation (for cattle and soy) in Brazil’s Para state, known for its high (illegal) deforestation rates and high levels of violence against forest community leaders.
Our first major success took place in 2016. A GPS-camera allowed a twelve-member surveillance team of Maró Indigenous Territory to collect GPS-evidence of illegal activities within their territory. The chief, Odair “Dadá” Borari, brought pictures with GPS-coordinates to the authorities in Santarém, Pará. The pictures showed stocks of logs and wooden buildings of timber companies with GPS coordinates suggesting their location inside Maró Indigenous Territory. This led to a joint police operation by Brazil’s federal police and environmental police. A few days later, they initiated a helicopter surveillance to confirm the spot and hence the illegality. Eight Forest Management Plans were cancelled and several timber companies were expelled from Maró Indigenous Territory, with impacts for long-term deterrence of illegal logging. This project shows how local forest protection, even in remote areas without electricity and telephone, can be carried out effectively and inexpensively. Our model can be replicated in other areas, especially in indigenous and other protected areas with GPS borders.
The aim of Forest Forces is to protect nature, the tropical rainforests, its indigenous inhabitants and other traditional or tribal communities living in it. The foundation acts upon the devastating effect of deforestation and its growing threats.
Protected land is only safe when the laws protecting the land are enforced. In reality, illegal activities are omnipresent and difficult to counter. However, we support efforts protecting the land in three ways:
- Supply of tools and equipment for the forest surveillance teams
- Capacity building and empowerment
- Connecting forest communities to the forest law enforcement system
1. Tools and equipment
Land protection requires declarations of illegal activities including verified time and location of the crime. The authorities can only act upon a declaration if it has GPS-coordinates and a time stamp of the logging to verify if it is indeed illegal. The constant present clouds make it difficult to monitor the logging with satellites only. Because of this, providing locals with GPS-camera’s is an effective and inexpensive way to record illegal logging. The pictures, including GPS-coordinates, can be brought to the authorities who can help stop the logging companies.
In this article a research project of three years was conducted, showing the success of the GPS-cameras.
2. Capacity building and empowerment
The Amazon forest can not be protected without the indigenous inhabitants. Therefore it is important that the indigenous people share their experiences and effective methods (best practice). Forest Forces facilitates the exchange of knowledge and experiences amongst chiefs and forest protectors of different indigenous communities.
3. Access to Justice
Forest Forces helps indigenous communities to get access to justice and the forest law enforcement system when they want to report illegal activities in their region. Practically this means Forest Forces is supporting chiefs of indigenous communities to make the long trip to travel to town, where they can contact the authorities to report illegal logging and deforestation. For the law enforcement authorities this is also very helpful, because they don’t have the capacity to protect and check the whole Amazone forest themselves.