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Forest Service builds natural resource law enforcement capacity in Colombia

COLOMBIA – From November 2018 through February 2020, the USDA Forest Service International Programs Office, in conjunction with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Colombia, a part of the U.S. Department of State, and the Colombian Rural Police Operations Directorate (Carabineros), conducted a course on Natural Resource Law Enforcement in Protected Areas. USDA Forest Service instructors included Alex Lomvardias, assistant special agent in charge, Region 6; Mike Gardiner, retired assistant special agent in charge, Region 3; Michele Windsor, ecosystem staff officer, Nez Perce,  Clearwater National Forests; Bill Jackson, District Ranger, White River National Forest; and Jeff Miller, Outdoor Recreation, Northern Regional Office. The course consisted of five separate trainings that enhanced the ability of natural resource law enforcement officers to address environmental crimes, specifically in protected areas.

Colombia is home to ten percent of the world’s biodiversity but is also highly vulnerable to the effects of environmental crimes like illegal logging, illegal mining, illicit crop production, fires, trafficking and poaching of wildlife. Protected areas are managed for a wide range of goals in addition to biodiversity conservation, such as watershed protection, research, forestry and tourism. Improving detection and response to environmental crimes goes beyond meeting conservation goals; it is responding to a broader humanitarian issue that has serious effects on governance and the economy. Improving law enforcement capacity will not only help reduce devastating environmental impacts caused by these illegal activities, it will also protect the United States and the global forest products industry from their effects.

For successful completion of the course, natural resource law enforcement officers needed to understand proper protection techniques and demonstrate their ability to use them. The technical assistance the Carabineros trainees received focused on improved understanding of protected areas and natural resources, with coursework in patrol skills, investigation skills, documentation of crime scenes, evidence collection, field operations in a protected area and overviews of specific environmental crimes.

The Carabineros shared that as result of the course, they better understood how to assess and document illegal environmental crime scenes. Proper environmental crime investigation will aid the Carabineros in increasing the number of criminal arrests, presenting prosecutors with case information that can lead to prosecution of the suspect and reducing the overall number of environmental crimes.

Group photo
Carabineros natural resource law enforcement officers and USFS instructors celebrate course completion. Colombia. USDA Forest Service Photo.
Group of uniformed mean out in a field
Trainees participate in a field exercise on environmental crimes. Colombia. USDA Forest Service Photo.