FLEG II activity of Public Monitoring empowers Armenian citizens to protect their forests
“Helpless. This is how I felt when I saw my forests being damaged and I had no means to intervene” said Levon Galstyan, a volunteer, “After taking part in the training courses of Public Monitoring, I am confident that I can finally bring my contribution to save forests in an effective way”.
Many other Armenian activists have also felt like Levon. They lacked the knowledge and the appropriate instruments to support actions by public authorities to combat detrimental activities such as illegal timber harvesting, unpermitted hydropower installations and mining operations, all of which destroy significant number of hectares of forest every year.
“We felt the urge to do something about this and, back in 2014, we decided to create a very advanced system of monitoring based on modern satellite technology accessible to anyone” said Luba Balyan, FLEG II Country Program Coordinator in Armenia for IUCN. “Over a year has passed since the implementation of this activity and the results we have obtained so far are really impressive”.
In 2015, the ENPI Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program (FLEG II) and Geoinfo LLC, a local consultant firm specialized in remote sensing technology and spatial analysis, organized several courses in Yerevan and Vanadzor to teach volunteers how to identify and properly document illegal operations. They learned how to use GPS navigation tools, analyse suspicious or irregular situations, record the data gathered on the field, and report the cases to public authorities, in accordance to current legislative requirements.
All the data on suspected or documented illegal forest activities collected by the activists are regularly uploaded on a dedicated website. On this website users have the opportunity to submit their observations and also review the useful informational materials. FLEG and Geoinfo are currently producing short video tutorials about forest monitoring that will soon be posted on the website.
“Well-trained human resources and up-to-date satellite tools are indispensable factors in detecting illegal activities. We formed several groups of citizens who, together with our experts, conduct field research as professionally as possible” said Ms. Balyan, “Thanks to their meticulous work over the course of 2015, 1,425 illegally cut trees were identified across a land area of approximately 190 hectares, 8 forestry enterprises were inspected by Armenian authorities, and 3 criminal cases were filed. All this would have been unthinkable prior to this activity”.
The three cases discovered through Public Monitoring demonstrate beyond question that volunteers represent a valuable resource for the State Forestry Agency. They provided the authorities with documentary evidence of the crimes and showed the sites to the environmental inspectors.
“The three lawsuits that were filed proved the importance of our project. In Kapan, for example, a forest guard was dismissed and arrested for cutting down 150 trees illegally. We hope to help detect and punish many more criminal acts” affirmed Ms. Balyan.
Another primary goal of the FLEG II team is to raise awareness and interest on the threats posed by illegal and uncontrolled use of forest. For this purpose, Geoinfo set up a Facebook page that was integrated with the website to reach a wider audience. All the information about the new series of training courses that will be held in 2016 are made available to everybody.
Over the course of 2015, 1,425 illegally cut trees were identified, 8 forestry enterprises were inspected by Armenian authorities, and 3 criminal cases were filed
In 2015, over 60 volunteers took part in the trainings
In 2015, series of trainings were held in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and Vanadzor. In 2016, three more areas will host these trainings, namely Ijevan, Dilijan, and Kapan.
“We received very good feedback from the public, and the media dedicated much more attention to the topic of illegal logging in 2015 than ever before. We are certain that this positive trend will continue this year as we have many more initiatives coming up” said Ms. Balyan, “We will train more volunteers in Ijevan, Dilijan, and Kapan. We are also planning to purchase more professional tools such as GPS navigators, and equip our groups with backpacks and uniforms for field surveys”.
“Now I know what needs to be done in order to protect my forests” affirmed Ani Khachatryan, a volunteer. “Thanks to Public Monitoring, I developed the skill set to make a precious contribution to fight illegal logging. Technical knowledge acquired from practical implementation of this activity gave volunteers like me real power”, said Karine Panosvan, another active citizen.
For more information contact Luba Balyan at firstname.lastname@example.org