FSC-certified communities get techie

Earlier in 2016, our partner, United States Forest Service, generously donated 13 GPS units for communities to use to better monitor their locally protected forests. We trained local forest management committees to use their new GPSs to monitor local wildlife, as well as the locations of felled trees, illegal activities and wildfires. We also teamed up with WWF-Tanzania to train local forest management committees in five villages to use mobile applications for forest monitoring using android phones, including GeoODK for data collection and Forest Watcher for monitoring wildfires. This will enable us to work with communities to detect and quickly respond to any effects that their activities might be having on forest health and animal populations.

GPS training in Liwiti village forest reserve

Six villages asked us for support to expand their locally protected forests by 40,000 hectares last year. To us, this is proof enough that our approach is providing concrete incentives for local people to promote forest conservation. There is also evidence (here) to suggest that these certified community forests are healthier than forests under alternative management regimes, with higher tree densities and fewer incidences of fire, and bring more benefits to local people. However, we still know relatively little about the actual effect of this on Tanzania’s wildlife, especially rare, threatened and endangered species.

We have developed a series of participatory methods that enable communities to monitor local wildlife as a key indicator of forest health. Prior to 2016, this monitoring focused on point counts of three species of bird, the African Broadbill, Crested Guineafowl and the Dark-backed Weaver. These birds are easy to identify and are commonly found in near-pristine coastal forest patches, but do less well in degraded areas, making them fantastic indicators of forest health.

We are working with communities and our partners at United States Forest Service to support communities to monitor wildlife in local forests even more effectively. In early 2016, we equipped 13 community forest management committees with GPS units and further trained them to monitor rare, threatened and endangered mammals along fixed transects in their forests (they still conduct point counts of birds at fixed checkpoints along the transects). Key target species include the endangered African wild hunting dog and black and rufous elephant shrew, as well as vulnerable hippos, elephants, lions and leopards. Encounters with these species are monitored and compared both in areas where sustainable timber harvesting takes place, and in highly bio-diverse coastal forest patches which are dedicated as conservation zones. This approach enables us to work with communities to detect and quickly respond to any impacts that forest management might be having on high conservation value coastal forest habitats and their resident wildlife. This will become more important as community forestry is intensified in coming years, resulting in more benefits for local people, but also in more pronounced changes inside the forests.