Drones Empower Community Members to Take Part in Reporting and Stopping Crimes Against Their Forests

southwest amazon drone center
Our Southwest Amazon Drone Center is training local landowners, forest users, indigenous communities, students, and government officials to use cutting-edge satellite, smartphone, and drone technology to monitor and stop deforestation. We provide local people with the technology, knowledge, legal support, and connections they need to safely and effectively take action.

In 2019, we trained and certify 89 individuals in using drones and smartphone apps to detect illegal activities in remote areas of their forests, and report them using drone imagery as legally-admissible evidence for law enforcement to be able to take action and prosecute offenders.

Marcelina, Drone pilotSixteen of the new users were women, and their numbers continue to increase as we focus on their inclusion in this type of training. We also trained and helped the local association of forest users known as ACOMAT in carrying out 26 patrols using their newly-acquired technological capabilities (drones, satellite imagery and/or mobile applications). These patrols detected 16 incidents of illegal activity in 9 areas, and a total of 5 criminal complaints were filed with the local government of the Madre de Dios region of Peru, which are currently being addressed by the authorities. We were also able to hold six specialized trainings for volunteer community park guards (called Forest Custodians), who combine our technology with their traditional foot patrols inside protected areas.

southwest amazon drone center photo of logging
Drone footage of illegal logging in the area

Beyond directly providing the actual drone and smartphone technology to these communities and individuals, we also provide continued training, certifications, and drone maintenance workshops to support their long-term fight to keep forests protected. This approach has been become so successful that it is known as the “ACOMAT Model” in Peru, and, due to its high demand, we are beginning to replicate it in other areas of Peru in addition to making it available to other countries in the Amazon.

All in all, this work marks a key first step for communities to effectively engage the government and compel them to take action by providing clear evidence of illegal activities in a timely (meaning in real time – while the illegal activity is still going on), cost effective, high-tech way.

Click here to read how ACOMAT members were recently able to detect illegal logging via drones.

Special thanks to The Sheldon and Audrey Katz Foundation, the members of the Cloud Appreciation Society, the
Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, and all individuals and organizations whose generous support made this project possible.

153,000 Acres Of Brazil Nut Forests Protected by Amazon Conservation and Google

 Brazil nut concessionaires walking in forestAmazon Conservation’s sister organization Conservación Amazónica – ACCA, with support from Google.org, just finished up a two-year initiative that trained community members to use cutting-edge satellite and field technologies to combat deforestation in the southern Peruvian Amazon, now protecting over 150,000 acres of lowland forests.

This initiative trained 75 Brazil nut harvesters and their families in forest monitoring technologies, which will help them safeguard forests to be used for sustainable purposes. Preventing deforestation of natural resources is not only environmentally important, but also economically, as the productive forests in and around the Madre de Dios area in Peru provide a sustainable and forest-friendly economic income to around 45,000 people, about 20% of the population.

In Peru, local families or associations can be granted a piece of public forests to be used for specific purposes – called a concession – such as harvesting nuts and berries, or for ecotourism. This system prevents acres of forests from falling victim to destructive activities, such as land squatting, illegal logging, or invasions by gold miners. Additionally, concessionaires are required by law to report on illicit activities in their concessions, which is a way the government gets community support to protect large swaths of forests.

Brazil nut concessionairesBefore this program, concessionaires and their communities lacked capacity to monitor these large, remote areas and a way to rapidly and safely report deforestation in their territories. Our innovative methodology of combining real-time satellite imagery analysis and drone field technology (which includes smartapps and other technologies developed by Google) with legal training, gave concessionaires the ability to detect and report deforestation as it happened in their territory. This is a stark contrast from before, when the only way to monitor thousands of acres of forests was through foot patrols that took days to complete. 

Now 75 Brazil nut harvesters and their families are using satellite imagery, early deforestation alerts, and GPS applications on mobile devices to monitor their forests. Among them, 23 individuals successfully obtained their licenses as drone pilots from the Ministry of Transport and Communications’ General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics. This means they can now their entire territory in minutes, without having to face potential risks of confronting dangerous individuals committing environmental crimes or even running into outsiders who might bring diseases like the novel coronavirus into their communities. 

Brazil nut appetizersThrough this program, over 153,000 acres (62,000 hectares) of forests are now monitored and protected with technology by the local people we empowered. Moreover, technological kits were donated to each individual or local association, each containing a drone, a maintenance kit, a laptop and a printer, giving them the knowledge and tools needed to safeguard forests..

These successes were celebrated with a closing ceremony in the Castaña Amazon Park earlier this year. Local authorities and representatives of local organizations attended, such as the director of the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon (IIAP) and members of local harvesting associations. During the ceremony, attendees enjoyed Brazil nut appetizers, while watching presentations about the project, the results achieved, and the collaborators and participants. The event ended with a guided tour of the Brazil Nut Harvesting Center in the Castaña Amazon Park, which is noted as the first living Brazil nut tree park in the world.

Presenter at Brazil Nut Google EventThe project, led by our director of our Southwest Amazon Drone Center, Carlos Castañeda, will continue to provide technical support to maintain the donated drones and training to reinforce what they learned, as well as be available to answer any questions that may arise during monitoring and surveillance of their concessions. Thus, the continuity of the project and its sustainability are ensured.

This Google.org-funded project was the first of its kind nationwide in Peru. After this success, Amazon Conservation continues its mission of conserving the Amazon basin using new technologies. Over the next three years, we hope to strengthen the real-time monitoring of the forests by empowering local people and employing science and technology as a proven way to fight deforestation in the Amazon and create a model for other tropical forests around the world.

Madre de Dios Red List Project Underway

We know that an extensive area of the Madre de Dios basin has been set aside for protection in parks and reserves. However, it is not known exactly which species are protected in these areas, and which species have been recorded in the Madre de Dios basin but whose habitat is not protected. The answers to these questions will change in the coming decades, due to increasing pressures from economic development and climate change.

ACA is thus developing new plans and tools to help INRENA (the Peruvian National Institute of Natural Resources), researchers and conservationists to avoid species extinctions in the region.  The first phase of the “Parks and Species of Madre de Dios” program consists of a preliminary compilation of species lists and publications for select groups of animals (birds, terrestrial mammals, bats, fishes, invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles). We expect the first products to be ready two months from now:

  1. Lists of the species present and expected within each protected area in the Madre de Dios basin
  2. Lists of the species known to occur in the Madre de Dios basin but not yet recorded in a protected area
  3. A list of high-priority research projects to fill gaps in the previous lists; 4) A plan to monitor and protect species not yet covered by the region’s parks.

Download Newsletter PDF