Since the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) adopted the LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System as part of the national forest protection strategy in March 2016, more than 3,000 kilometers of patrol distance through the country’s natural forest have been logged. During these patrols, DENR personnel, community forest patrollers, and other volunteers have recorded more than 2,000 threats to forest health. According to the data analyzed, the most common threats observed are annual and perennial farming, illegal tree cutting, slash and burn farming, presence of houses, and charcoal production.
Under the LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System, a tool jointly developed by DENR and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), regular forest patrolling is a key component. Patrolling efforts are based on the forest conservation area plans. Patrols should focus on those areas in the natural forest that help achieve conservation objectives and targets as stated in the plan. Therefore, before forest rangers set out to go on patrol, they develop a patrol plan following some simple steps.
Patrolling is not a random walk through the forest. It is done along a pre-identified route to ensure that the threats that may cause forest degradation are observed and recorded. These threats need to be addressed in order to achieve the conservation objectives and targets defined in the forest conservation area plan. Hence, the first step is to review the conservation objectives spelled out in the forest conservation area plan. If the objective is to reduce the rate of—or stop—forest degradation, the areas with degraded forest need to be identified to focus patrol efforts in vulnerable areas. Aside from recording existing threats and addressing these, the presence of patrollers can also protect the remaining trees by limiting the opportunities for illegal activities in the area. On the positive side, signs of natural regeneration are also observed and recorded during patrols. Deterring illegal activities and protecting natural regrowth contribute to healthier forests. Therefore, achieving conservation objectives depends on detecting threats through patrols and responding to those observed threats or by documenting forest improvement.
In the second step, the conservation area is divided into patrol sectors, depending on the size of the conservation area and the number of forest guards. As a rule of thumb, there should be at least four forest guards per 4,000 hectares of natural forest. Using natural divides such as rivers, creeks, mountains, cliffs, or administrative boundaries (e.g. barangays) have proven most effective in determining patrol sectors. On the other hand, using map grids to divide a conservation area into patrol sectors is not advisable as a line on a map does not mean much on the ground.
Next, a patrol team needs to be assembled. Preferably, a team should consist of four people who have defined roles that require certain skills and knowledge. The patrol leader, for example, decides which of the patrol routes laid out in the patrol plan to take. During the duration of the patrol, he or she is responsible for all actions taken by the patrol team. This requires leadership, decision-making, and knowledge about environmental laws. The spotter, as the name suggests, helps the team to spot and identify threats, areas of regeneration, forest condition, and indicator species through both direct and indirect observation. Direct observation means seeing the species with your own eyes while indirect observation refers to sensing the presence of the species through their sounds and other pieces of evidence. The guide leads the team along the patrol route. If the team stays overnight, the guide ensures that there are enough provisions. To be a successful guide, he or she should be familiar with the patrol area. The recorder enters all the patrol observations into a smart phone, using the CyberTracker app. Knowing how to use the CyberTracker software is therefore an essential skill for the recorder.
Before a team goes on patrol, a patrol plan needs to be formulated. A patrol plan is prepared for a specific conservation area within a specific timeframe (usually a quarter) and includes a variety of important information. For one, a map of the conservation area (the same one contained in the forest conservation area plan) that shows the forest cover change analysis and administrative boundaries. Other information such as trails, elevation, known locations of threats or observed threats, can enhance the plan. For another, the patrol plan includes measurable patrol objectives. These objectives can be defined in terms of distance or area to be covered within a certain timeframe. The patrol plan also includes the number of patrol teams and the names of each member, the specific patrol sector, and the type (threats-focused or indicator species-focused) of the patrol that will be conducted. Last but not least, the patrol plan includes the routes to be taken by each patrol team, based on the location of threats and the forest cover change analysis.
After all this planning, the actual patrol in a conservation area can start and observations recorded. A patrol team could cover a distance of two to four kilometers a day, depending on the terrain of the conservation area. It is therefore important to remember that a patrol route starts within the conservation area and not at the forest guards’ base station. Therefore, additional time and provisions to reach the conservation area need to be factored in. Also, patrol teams who intend to retrace their routes on the way back should not include this distance in their recorded patrol distance. In this case, they should finish the patrol inside the conservation area and save the patrol data on their devices before turning around. These data are then submitted to the data manager for analysis.
To constantly improve patrol results, the teams’ patrol performance should be evaluated regularly to identify strengths and weaknesses. Preferably, patrol performance evaluation is done quarterly to coincide with the quarterly patrol plan update. This way, identified areas for improvement can be addressed by including them in the following quarter’s patrol plan. The data manager, although not part of the patrol team, should be part of the evaluation process. He or she analyzes the data collected in the forest and might be able to make suggestions for improvement.
Science-based planning to achieve defined conservation objectives and targets in the Philippines forests is an essential part of the LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System. LAWIN is currently being implemented nationwide, covering more than six million hectares of natural forest in 17 out of 18 regions. #