On March 10, 2016, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the innovative LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System in Ilagan City, Isabela. LAWIN, named after the local name of the Philippine Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus philipensis), applies a science-based approach to protect forests and the wildlife that depends on these.
Among other threatened biodiversity hotspots in the Philippines, LAWIN will help protect and conserve the Sierra Madre Natural Park, which has the largest remaining contiguous block of natural forests in the Philippines. Tucked away in the mountainous area of Region 2, the 359,486-hectare natural park – almost four times the size of Marinduque Island – is considered the largest protected area in the country. It is likewise one of the richest in terms of genetic, species and habitat diversity. The Isabela oriole and the Philippine crocodile are just two of the 130 rare and critically endangered animals that can still be found there. The lush environment of the Sierra Madre Natural Park is one of the seven project sites of DENR-USAID’s Biodiversity and Watersheds Improved for Stronger Economy and Ecosystem Resilience (B+WISER) Program.
LAWIN uses five key innovations in forest protection. First, LAWIN uses a science-based purpose-driven process for identifying conservation areas and hotspots and formulating measurable conservation objectives for these. Second, LAWIN replaces manual recording and encoding of patrol data with a mobile application. Forest patrollers can use tablets or smart phones and directly record geo-referenced observations on habitat, wildlife, trees, threats and illegal activities. CyberTracker, a free open-source software, is used to create the interface for the mobile application. After a patrol is completed, observations are uploaded to a computer using the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) software for data analysis and mapping. This fast processing of data leads to LAWIN’s third key innovation: enhanced coordination between biodiversity and threats monitoring with environmental law enforcement. Fourth, LAWIN enables decision-makers to monitor patrol efforts such as manpower exerted, distance covered, and number of hours spent patrolling. Fifth and finally, LAWIN allows for the visualization of the spatial distribution of observation records and patrol efforts and trends that show the effectiveness of the interventions implemented to address the observed threats. Well-informed, community leaders, resource managers, and environmental law enforcers can evaluate and continuously improve their forest conservation strategies.
A technical bulletin signed by DENR’s Forest Management Bureau Director Ricardo L. Calderon and Biodiversity Management Bureau Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim enables LAWIN to be officially implemented by DENR and USAID’s B+WISER program at the seven program sites and other forest degradation hotspots in the country. The signing was affirmed by DENR’s Undersecretary for Field Operations Demetrio L. Ignacio, Jr. and witnessed by Assistant Secretary Marcial C. Amaro, Regional Director Benjamin T. Tumaliuan, PENRO Isabela William C. Savella, Ilagan City Mayor Josemarie L. Diaz, USAID’s Environment Office Chief Jeremy Gustafson, as well as the site’s mascot Isa, the Isabela oriole. “DENR would like to express its gratitude to USAID for helping develop the LAWIN forest and biodiversity protection system that will be implemented nationally to protect our forests,” said USec Ignacio.
“This is part of USAID’s larger investment to help the Philippines improve its environmental resilience,” concluded Gustafson.
LAWIN, which was jointly developed by DENR and USAID, has already caught the private sector’s attention as a meaningful way to support environmental conservation for the greater social good. During the launching in Isabela, Cosmic Technologies – the brand owner of Cherry Mobile – donated 15 tablets for LAWIN patrolling in Sierra Madre. The launching was covered in multiple media outlets and accompanied by the social media campaign #iSupportLAWIN, creating unprecedented traffic on USAID’s B+WISER Facebook page. After all, conserving biodiversity is a shared responsibility. #