Helping Indigenous Communities in Panama Use Technology to Save the Rainforest

Panama does not officially have a share of the Amazon, but a share of rainforest if definitely has. The Darien jungle remains one of the most remote and inaccessible places on the planet: Panama’s “Darién Gap” is the only missing link in the Pan-American Highway, due to wild swampland and forest too costly – both financial and environmentally – through which to officially build.

Yet illegal logging and development threatens this land, and indigenous communities such as the Embera–Wounaa in Darien Province are fighting back. Supported by partners such as The Rainforest Foundation, these groups are using modern tools to protect the forest and its inhabitants.

With help from The Rainforest Foundation, drones are changing how indigenous communities in Panama take control of their lands and forests.

With help from The Rainforest Foundation, drones are changing how indigenous communities in Panama take control of their lands and forests. Photo: Rainforest Foundation site.

Guns? No – drones. In an initiative kicked off in 2015, with a second phases launched last summer, Rainforest Foundation and a national federation of indigenous peoples have been training local mapping teams how to fly fixed-wing and helicopter drones and manipulate sophisticated software that creates highly accurate maps to document incursions into their territories. This action not only gives a comprehensive, bird’s eye view of the illegal activities, cleared land, and other deforestation attempts: it allows indigenous communities to identify areas at risk, and areas already under attack, and alert/work with authorities without direct and dangerous confrontation – an act that has proven to be fatal one too many times.

This high-tech mapping initiative is great example of the Rainforest Foundation’s mission at work: helping indigenous people – those intimately connected to their ancestral lands – secure and exercise their legal right to protect the forests that we all depend on. Its a great investment and documented return: rainforests protected by Indigenous communities have the lower rates of deforestation than any other forests in the world including national parks, nature preserves, government land, and private sanctuaries. Louis Bacon‘s Moore Charitable Foundation is proud to be part of this bold and successful conservation effort. In the words of the Rainforest Foundation: “Indigenous communities right to their ancestral lands isn’t just the right thing to do, it is the most effective way to protect our rainforests.”

Read more about The Rainforest Foundation’s work to help combat illegal deforestation in an excellent and recent article by VICE magazine.

Revitalizing Communities, Restoring the Environment, Inspiring Productive Lives and Building Civic Spirit: Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

A significant collaborator in combatting some of Taos’s most significant threats – fire, water quantity and quality, forest health – The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) uses conservation-based projects as the classroom for personal and professional development and training. Specifically, for the last 10 years, RMYC has had a significant impact on the forests of New Mexico, and in Taos County, by deploying crews to undergo thinning activities with the goals of restoring the diversity of flaura and fauna, reintroducing fire into the natural process, preventing catastrophic crown fire, educating the public about the role of fire, and providing fire wood for low income residents.


The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps: inspiring youth to preserve the environmental and cultural and historical integrity of the NM region. Photo (c) Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

As a youth corps, RMYC was also created to address more than just conservation. Their process and outcomes are meant to revitalize communities, preserve and restore the environment, prepare young people for responsible, productive lives and build civic spirit through service. Specifically, their goals are:

  • to provide local youth ages 16-25 with meaningful employment opportunities;
  • to inspire young people of all backgrounds to engage in community service; and
  • to preserve the environmental, cultural and historical integrity of the NM region.

RMYC is clearly a stepping stone to new opportunities. It’s inspiring young adults to make a positive difference in themselves and their communities. Through training and team service, corpsmembers discover their potential for healthy, productive lives.


Rocky Mountain Youth Corps deploys crews to undergo thinning activities to address forest health. Photo (c) Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Furthermore, they are a major area player. They have been contributing to the Taos County Wildfire Protection Plan, collaborating with the Taos County Watershed Alliance, and are a signatory of the Rio Grande Water Fund.  Participation in these collaborative efforts are key to building comprehensive strategies to combat some of Taos’s most significant threats.  In addition, they partner with many area non-profits, including the Taos Land Trust to build cohesion and community wide support for land conservation.

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps builds civic spirit through service. Photo (c) Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Louis Bacon and The Taos Ski Valley Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation are proud to support RMYC this season. We hope you will too. Learn more about RMYC here.

P.S. – A call to eligible youth: We noticed on their website that RMYC is now hiring young adults to serve on their spring conservation crews in both Taos and Albuquerque starting in March. Crew members will earn First Aid and CPR certification, project-specific training such as Forest Worker Safety Certification or backcountry skills, as well as a number of other professional development topics. Benefits include a living stipend and an Education Award upon successful completion of the program. Learn more about the opportunity for graduating students, students who have recently obtained a GED, young adults interested in conservation work, students transitioning to the workforce, or anyone looking for a meaningful experience with a group of peers here.


Women in Fire: Announcing October’s WTREX

The Moore Charitable Foundation and founder Louis Bacon are focused on forest health nationally and the advancement of prescribed burning as a critical management strategy, in partnership with experts in the field such as The Nature Conservancy and Wilderness Workshop. Like all areas of conservation, the future of fire practice could benefit from a more diversified workforce – including women in the mix as well.

We are delighted to promote a great blog post published via Fire Adapted Communities by Lenya N. Quinn-Davidson, Director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, about a prescribed fire training exchange (TREX) in northwestern California, hosted by the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council. This year’s theme: Women in Fire. Read on. 

Photo (c) Lenya Quinn-Davidson

I’ll be honest: this month’s fire science blog is not very scientific. It’s half training announcement, half social commentary. But it has an essence of science to it—not because of the literature that exists on the topic, but because of what isn’t there.

At the end of October, I’m hosting a prescribed fire training exchange (TREX) here in northwestern California. This will be the fourth annual TREX hosted by the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, but this year will be special—the event will have a focus on women in fire, and it will work to recognize and reinforce the importance of female perspective and leadership in fire management.

In planning the training exchange, which we’re calling the “WTREX,” we assembled a high-powered team of leaders to craft a shared vision around this inherently complex and sensitive topic. Most of us are women, but we come from very different backgrounds. There are seasoned wildland fire professionals—like Jeanne Pinchatulley, one of only two female Type 1 incident commanders in the country, and Amanda Stamper, The Nature Conservancy in Oregon’s fire manager—but we also have municipal fire staff, fire ecologists, extension personnel, media and outreach specialists, and others. So to me, the most interesting thing in the planning process has hardly been the event itself—rather, it’s been the conversations that our group has been having as we’ve worked to articulate the mission and goals of the WTREX. It took many months of thought and rich discussion to get to yesterday’s public announcement of the event.


As I lay awake last week thinking about my Tuesday blog post and what science topic I should delve into this month, I naturally found myself thinking about women in fire. I wondered about the research that’s been done on this topic, and how it relates to what we’re trying to do here in late October. What are the challenges that women face in fire? Is it an issue of recruitment and numbers, or is it something more substantive—more cultural?

Perhaps tellingly, there hasn’t been much research on this topic. Sarah McCaffrey pointed me toward some work in Australia, where Christine Eriksen and others have looked at rural bushfire management in the context of gender. They’ve found key differences in the way men and women perceive, prepare for, and respond to bushfires—differences that often leave women ill-prepared for fire or reliant on men for protection. Though this is a different social and political setting than we’re immersed in here, there was one recurring theme in Eriksen’s work that resonated with the conversations I’ve been having: the notion that fire management is “men’s business,” even when women are involved. That same underlying attitude has recently been called out here in the U.S. An article in High Country News focused on the harassment and sexism that is still rampant in the world of wildland firefighting, and that story mostly highlighted the overt abuse that’s taking place—not the more subtle forms of misogyny that are even more widespread but harder to pinpoint and disrupt.

In approaching the WTREX, our team is interested in creating a space where women and men can discuss and understand these issues, and work together to build a more inclusive, supportive culture in fire. We feel that today’s fire problems are so complex that we need to elevate diversity in intellect, talent and perspective in order to solve them, and that approach will necessarily involve leadership from women.

The WTREX could not be more timely: just in the last few days, Shawna Legarza was appointed the new national director of fire and aviation management for the USDA Forest Service, and another woman, Patty Grantham, will take her place as the director of fire and aviation for the Pacific Southwest Region. On top of that, we’re in an election year with the first female presidential candidate of a major political party. The time is ripe to bring 40 fire practitioners together in northern California to restore fire to the landscape, build new networks and partnerships, and work toward a more equitable, inclusive, and effective fire management culture. (And I think we should probably incorporate some research, too—there’s clearly a need!)

To learn more about WTREX or to apply, visit Contact Lenya at if you have questions.


Eriksen, C., Gill, N. and Head, L., 2010. The gendered dimensions of bushfire in changing rural landscapes in Australia. Journal of Rural Studies, 26(4), pp.332-342.

Eriksen, C., 2014. Gendered risk engagement: challenging the embedded vulnerability, social norms and power relations in conventional Australian bushfire education. Geographical Research, 52(1), pp.23-33.

Langlois, K. May 30, 2016. Trial by Fire: women in the male-dominated world of wildland firefighting still face harassment, abuse and sexism. High Country News.