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Panama partnership supports indigenous communities, combats illegal logging

Wounaan community members show non-timber forest products that have been lost due to illegal logging and land degradation. Forest Service photo by Rachel Sheridan.

PANAMA — Christian Giardina, USDA Forest Service Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry research ecologist, and International Programs office staff were in Panama from February 26 to March 10. they worked with non-governmental organizations Native Future and FUNDEPW Panama on a project with the Wounaan indigenous group. A traditional ecological specialist from the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission joined the team. The activity was organized by the International Programs office with funding from the U.S. Department of State.

The purpose of the trip was to work with Wounaan communities to develop a reforestation plan that met ecological, economic, and cultural objectives. The team visited two communities and worked with over 90 families. Through site visits and meetings they learned about existing experiences in reforestation, restoration, as well as identifying potential reforestation areas. Afterwards, they led a workshop that consisted of participatory sessions where Wounaan community members talked about past landscape changes and visioning exercises that helped to identify future desired conditions of their forests. Participants identified species they want to cultivate for timber, cultural and economic purposes. Based on this, the team helped them design a small-scale reforestation and management plan for timber species and non-timber forest products. Reforestation experts will return in June to work with the communities to begin seedling out planting of the desired species.

Forest degradation and deforestation on Wounaan lands is directly linked to illegal logging that targets the highly valued and internationally protected cocobolo tree (rosewood in English, or Dalbergia spp.). In addition to the direct technical support to Wounaan, the International Programs office is engaging Panamanian government partners in regional activities aimed to strengthen governance and institutions to combat illegal logging.