AMPA volunteer using Forest Watcher. Credit: AMPA.
Forest Guardians in Action: Amazónicos por la Amazonía Tackles Environmental Crimes with GFW
“We are part of nature and nature lives in coexistence. Everything is interconnected and everything depends on each other … If we don’t work collaboratively and in a connected way, we sure won’t be able to move forward.” – Tatiana Espinosa, President of ARBIO Perú ACOMAD – Madre De Dios, and a member of the Amazonía Que Late Network
Deep in the Amazon, volunteers from the Voluntary and Communal Conservation Network of San Martin receive a deforestation alert in Forest Watcher: the forest monitoring app shows an alert detecting a disturbance in a monitored area. The volunteers arrive by various means — from small boat, motorcycle, or horseback to endless walking — to an area that has been cleared, illegally. Within the Forest Watcher app, they document a report and capture evidence of the impact. Network volunteers alert the local authorities who launch an official investigation.
Guardians of the forest in San Martín, Peru, use Global Forest Watch’s (GFW) data and technologies such as Forest Watcher daily to monitor forests, prevent deforestation and defend biodiversity. Amazónicos por la Amazonía (AMPA) — a nonprofit organization committed to conserving Peru’s natural and cultural heritage and improving the sustainable development of the people of the Andean Amazon, and a GFW Small Grants Fund recipient — works with allies such as conservation concession holders from the San Martin Network to monitor and patrol forest areas (conservation and ecotourism concessions are public forest areas where legal management rights are granted to groups such as NGOs, like AMPA, that are organized by the civil society of the communities that voluntarily conserve the forests).
AMPA works with local communities and authorities to carry out joint actions to verify deforestation and raise awareness of environmental crimes. Since 2017, they actively monitored forest loss in the regions of San Martín, Loreto and Ucayali — an area that totals over 900,000 hectares. Through this work, they provided the San Martin network with a space to connect and collaborate on the conservation of the forest lands that were assigned to them for management and protection.
Leveraging GFW tools to build forest monitoring capacity
AMPA is a four-time recipient of the GFW Small Grants Fund (SGF), which provides financial and technical assistance to organizations to monitor and respond to deforestation. AMPA’s projects aim to pair local knowledge with a more robust use of GFW data and tools to improve the response capacity and awareness of environmental crimes in Peru’s San Martin region. During their projects, AMPA has trained volunteers on how to use tools like GFW data and the Forest Watcher app.
GFW’s partnership with AMPA started in 2017 during their first year as a SGF grantee. AMPA used GFW data and tools to implement a control and surveillance system within the conservation initiatives in the San Martin Network.
“Associations that protect forests use [GFW] as part of their surveillance and control systems, allowing them to organize patrol watches, tours and identify areas according to the degree of threat and vulnerability,” explained Jorge Fachín, Director of the Forest Program, Conservation and Monitoring of AMPA
GFW tools and monitoring equipment help AMPA improve forest monitoring activities of the volunteer network by enabling them to lead patrols more easily and rapidly. The use of drones and mobile apps like Forest Watcher help the volunteers collect sufficient information to carry out field activities with authorities, collect necessary information and evidence, and generate patrol reports.
Over the course of several SGF projects, AMPA worked with conservation networks in the Peruvian Amazon, including San Martin to use GFW solutions and develop their monitoring capacity, evolving each project based on lessons learned from their previous work. This involved the use and management of deforestation alerts and the development of skills to handle GPS, drones and cameras, and a “train the trainers” approach.
This equipped the San Martin Network to train their members on how to use GFW tools and identify deforestation alerts, and provided young network members with personalized training for data management and tools.
GIS and monitoring unit ready to respond to environmental crimes
AMPA also expanded its focus to continue to build capacity in forest custodian accreditation workshops, which include members of the Peruvian Amazon networks AMPA works with. This includes the formation of a Geographic Information System (GIS) and monitoring unit to monitor areas with GFW and remote sensing technology. The GIS and monitoring unit helped improve the verification of deforestation alerts and provide detailed information on the forest cover changes in the conservation areas.
Collaborating with technically capable monitoring brigades and forest custodians from the Peruvian Amazon networks strengthened AMPA’s ability to work directly with authorities to verify and respond to environmental crimes. The GIS and monitoring unit provided technical support in verification procedures to the authorities and prepared deforestation and field verification reports that were shared with Specialized Prosecution in Environmental Affairs (FEMA) and the Regional Environmental Authority (ARA). These reports support legal and administrative complaints against those responsible for environmental crimes, such as illegal deforestation.
Ultimately, authorities from FEMA and ARA officially recognized AMPA’ reports, along with GLAD alerts and Planet and drone imagery, as official evidence of environmental crimes.
Joint actions between AMPA’s GIS and monitoring unit, local actors and authorities helped strengthen and improve attention to environmental crimes with the active participation and involvement of local partners playing a key role. Due to the quality of reports submitted to FEMA on behalf of the San Martin Network, AMPA now has a formal inter-institutional agreement to assist the FEMA office in San Martin with collecting information on possible illegal deforestation using drones and Planet imagery.
Alliances with local authorities
AMPA organized workshops with representatives of the institutions directly involved in addressing environmental crimes in the region, which included designing a unified process for representatives and partners to collect key information for investigations through technical procedures that integrated GFW data and tools. Additionally, AMPA provided trainings for FEMA and ARA members on how to best use the data and tools.
AMPA helped prosecutors and technicians obtain accreditation as operators of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS, or drones) which strengthened their ability to conduct verifications. Furthermore, AMPA also supported monitoring and conservation partners to get accredited as RPAS operators, improving their ability to verify deforestation alerts in the areas they investigated, which in turn strengthened their reporting of forest-related crimes to authorities.
To share insights from their strategic approach for verifying and reporting crimes, AMPA developed a roadmap on integrating technology use and collaboration with local actors and authorities, including information on strategic alliances with different stakeholders (communities and local, regional and national governments).
This manual was created as part of the San Martin Network’s efforts to raise awareness and help address environmental crimes. They also shared this manual with partners on the platform of “Escuela Amazonía que Late,” an initiative led by AMPA that brings together local communities, Indigenous Peoples, organized civil society and local governments, and other partners across various conservation initiatives in Peru to learn about strategies to protect its natural and cultural heritage.
Raising awareness of community forest monitoring efforts
The surveillance and control system for forest monitoring developed by AMPA resulted in community advocacy efforts to raise awareness of environmental crimes within local, regional and national law enforcement authorities, including the prosecutor’s office, to reduce illegal deforestation. AMPA’s reports based on the deforestation alerts received media coverage and not only caught the attention of authorities to identify offenders, but their complaints were raised to the prosecutor’s office. To date, two reports based on AMPA’s approach that were referred to the authorities have resulted in sentencing of those responsible for environmental crimes.
As part of their communication strategy, AMPA prepared press releases and audiovisual materials to feature the main activities of their project that were disseminated across local, regional and national media and partner websites. These communication efforts helped emphasize and highlight the role of AMPA’s participatory monitoring work and raise awareness among stakeholders of environmental crimes.
Additionally, AMPA has hosted meetings and workshops with public institutions responsible for forest management in Peru to explain their control and surveillance system. National and subnational government agencies have recognized AMPA as an important stakeholder in the conservation and management of forests in the San Martin region and in the Peruvian Amazon, and several additional national and regional government agencies have requested training and technical support from them.
“We’re proud of the renewal of the inter-institutional agreement with the Specialized Prosecution in Environmental Affairs (FEMA) and the interest of other donors to continue promoting and executing projects with forest monitoring components based on our experience in other regions,” said Jorge Fachín.
From deforestation alert to community action and beyond
A key element of AMPA’s success is their approach to building partnerships with local communities and law enforcement authorities to use tools like GFW to verify deforestation and address environmental crimes, together. Today, AMPA continues their work within the network of community conservation concessions and local law enforcement to combat deforestation in San Martin. They are building off the momentum of their first successful collaboration with law enforcement and are working with forest monitors to continue participating in field visits with FEMA. Additionally, they are expanding their geographic reach and response to environmental crimes and are working with prosecutors from four provinces, including Loreto, Amazonas and two in San Martin.
AMPA‘s work continues to be recognized by regional and national authorities. Notably, their inter-institutional agreement with FEMA has been renewed, and they continue to work with strategic partners and allies to promote and execute forest monitoring projects in the region. They plan to build on capacity-strengthening efforts of local forest conservation associations through participatory implementation of surveillance systems and processes for their conservation initiatives. Furthermore, they will continue to provide technical support to FEMA and coordinate with authorities and local actors that are helping deliver justice for those affected by environmental crimes, and ultimately improve the lives of the communities that depend on forests.
To learn more about AMPA, visit their website.