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.

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.

Important Work from West to East: Critical Community Initiatives in Costilla County and Blue Economy Advocacy at The World Ocean Summit

Costilla County, one of five counties in the San Luis Valley was the first area of the state of Colorado to be colonized with recorded history dating back to 1540, the year Coronado explored the Southwest. Home to the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, it is mainly a farming and agriculture county, but also welcomes thousands of visitors year round from far and wide. Here, The Trinchera Blanca Foundation, an affiliate of Louis Bacon’s Moore Charitable Foundation, is proud to provide support to local organizations protecting and improving the land, habitat and quality of life for the people of region.

Costilla County Prevention Partners

Costilla County Prevention Partners

The Costilla County Economic Development Coalition

The Costilla County Economic Development Coalition

This week the MCF team visited two important partners to renew our support of their work: The Costilla County Economic Development Coalition, whose projects to create a tourism and community center will be a tremendous asset for the community and their economy; and Costilla County Prevention Partners, which has seen after school participation grow with students becoming more engaged in programming. A  big hats off to both organizations for their critical efforts in an area we consider to be our home.


At the World Ocean Summit in Bali, partners have announced important initiatives including this one to restore critical mangrove habitats.

Moving far, far East: since February 22 through today we have been tuning into Bali, Indonesia, host to the fourth World Ocean Summit. The topic: how the transition from a conventional economy in the ocean to one that is sustainable (“blue”) is a major investment opportunity – one to be harnessed immediately if we collectively wish to safeguard marine resources and provide a future for the millions of people dependent upon it (and dare we say, the world at large). Readers can see my feed for important announcements or follow the #OceanSummit hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. We are indebted to the work of, among so many others, Conservation International, Nature Conservancy, the Walton Family Foundation and other ocean partners and champions for major initiatives – from saving coral and mangroves to building sustainable fisheries.

Restoring our Forests and Protecting our Water from East to West: Life though Controlled Burns

Today, The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina gave us notice they will light the first control burns on a newly acquired property in Brunswick county, North Carolina. These restoration efforts, supported by Louis Bacon’s Orton Foundation, are just the beginning of a long restoration process of the unique and rare Longleaf pine system – carnivorous plants, orchids, grasses, birds, bears, bobcats, and many other animals. We’re excited to hear this news and laud the Conservancy on their forest health management efforts here and across the country. 

These efforts are desperately needed: also this week, Colorado State Forest Service officials unveiled their 2016 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests, warning state lawmakers that unhealthy forests and wildfires increasingly will affect people and water supplies. Numbers are stark: one in 14 trees is dead in Colorado forests and the number of gray-brown standing-dead trees has increased 30 percent since 2010 to 834 million.

Fire module member Andrew Merriam (left) and Kevin MacBride of the Conservancy’s Colorado chapter “mop up” after a prescribed burn, which involves finding and extinguishing any still-smoldering spots and clearing away debris that could reignite. © Jason Houston

Fire module member Andrew Merriam (left) and Kevin MacBride of The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado chapter “mop up” after a prescribed burn, which involves finding and extinguishing any still-smoldering spots © Jason Houston – Nature Conservancy

So let’s really focus on our partner’s and other experts’ efforts to protect our forests, our water and our people – and achieve important ecological and economic goals – by restoring a less damaging and more natural role for fire in our forests. Enter The U.S. Fire Learning Network (FLN). Established in 2002 through a national partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior, the FLN has engaged dozens of organizations across the nation, including The Rio Grande Water Fund in NM and The Pikes Peak Fire Learning Network in Colorado, in a process that accelerates the restoration of fire-dependent landscapes for the great benefit of people, water and wildlife.

And the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – New Mexico. Through training and service, Corpsmembers discover their potential for healthy, productive lives AND make a real difference for their environment and community. Recent numbers makes the case: 154.56 acres of forest restored; 31 miles of trails built or restored; 44 homes received full weatherization services; 66 homes had additional energy efficiency measures installed. As for the Corpsmembers? 106 certified in First Aid/CPR; 28 trained in Mental Health First Aid; 55% returned to post-secondary options after service term; 17% found employment post service term; and 15% returned for another community service opportunity. Way to go, RMYCNM – read more:

Further north in Colorado’s White River National Forest, Wilderness Workshop supports bringing fire back to the landscape on public lands at the discretion of the Forest Service, helping officials by educating the public and communicating with the press about upcoming burns and what the public can expect in each instance.

As 2017 heats up, MCF “West” affiliates The Trinchera Blanca Foundation and The Taos Ski Valley Foundation, we’ll look forward to supporting the advancement of forest health management best practices in the form of controlled burning. Stay tuned to our channels for more news on this front

‘Tis the Season to Be Giving: Supporting Conservation and Community this #GivingTuesday

November 29th will mark the fifth annual #GivingTuesday, a global day of charitable giving that harnesses social media’s powers of inspiration, motivation and collaboration. A counterpoint to the consumerism of our holiday season (i.e., Black Friday and Cyber Monday), #GivingTuesday kicks off the season of end-of-year giving and encourages participation – from physical volunteering to social amplification to writing checks to favorite champions of favorite causes. And since 2012, when it all began, #GivingTuesday has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year and a growing catalog of resources.


MCF works to preserve and protect natural resources for future generations.

As Tuesday draws near, then, we would like to remind the readers of this blog about the causes that are near and dear to us, and encourage amplification and volunteerism of, and charitable giving to our amazing partners. The Moore Charitable Foundation (MCF), founded in 1992 by lifelong conservationist Louis Bacon, is a private family foundation that works to preserve and protect natural resources for future generations. The Foundation and its affiliates support non-profit organizations that protect land, wildlife, habitat, water resources and communities primarily in the following regional areas: Southern Colorado, Northern New Mexico, Long Island, Eastern North Carolina, The Bahamas, and Panama. The Foundation engages leaders in conservation, habitat management, and local communities to identify innovative programs and projects that take a collaborative approach to solutions in the following priority areas:

  • Land: Preserving open spaces to ensure that future generations have access to our most precious natural resources
  • Water & Air: Defending the vitality of our oceans, bays, rivers, and wetlands, as well as the air we breathe, for all people
  • Wildlife Habitat: Strengthening habitat restoration efforts in order to protect threatened species
  • Marine Research and Conservation: Protecting marine resources through strategic research and advocacy efforts

From Oceana and NRDC and The Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance, to The Taos Land Trust and Panacetacea and Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation and the National Smokejumper Association, we are incredibly proud to support real champions of conservation and community.

See a full list of MCF partners here – and consider support one this #GivingTuesday. We can vouch that each is worthy of your attention and pocket book. And here’s raising a toast to the giving season.

The Controversy Continues with New Hanover County’s Industrial Special Use Permit

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is leading the My Community: My Voice Campaign to engage citizens and business leaders to help prevent polluting industry and support clean and responsible economic growth in New Hanover County by adopting an improved Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Louis Bacon, The Moore Charitable Foundation and the affiliate Orton Foundation are strong supporters of NCCF and the improved SUP campaign, which has strong business and community support and envisions a bright future for all. However, recent actions taken by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) are stalling the process. We recently received the following note from Jennifer Salter, NCCF’s Clean Communities Organizer and the The North Carolina Coastal Federation Advocacy Team and are publishing it in full here. Please take note of next steps below. 

Envisioning a bright future for New Hanover County: an improved Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Stalling it could hurt the Cape Fear River.

Envisioning a bright future for New Hanover County: an improved Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) for heavy industry. Stalling it could hurt the Cape Fear River.

On Monday, November 14, with more than a hundred people in attendance and a dozen people lined up to speak, the current New Hanover County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted to postpone the public hearing on the two year-long effort led by the federation and the community that focused on developing a more comprehensive Special Use Permit (SUP) for a small number of high-risk intensive industrial applicants. The Industrial SUP proposal included an extended timeline, community involvement and notification, and for the most impactful heavy industry uses a disclosure of external impacts that could pose a risk to local public health, environment, and natural resources, such as water quality and quantity.

As a result of the BOCC decision, the New Hanover County Planning Board held its fourth work session on November 15 from 2 PM – 5 PM to review the county planning staff’s proposed SUP text A-425 amendments. Although the NHC Planning Board is in support of a required community information meeting and an extended timeline (35 business days) for review of intensive industrial applicants, the majority of Planning Board recommends DELETING all requirements for intensive industries to disclose anticipated external effects of their proposed project upon the community. The majority of the Planning Board did not think it was fair for intensive industry applicants “to testify against themselves” and that requiring an intensive industry applicant to disclose their proposed project details is a burden to the applicant and is troublesome.

We disagree. Take for example the disclosure process that is common in real-estate. A seller must provide disclosure about the condition and any issues about their property. This helps increase the buyer’s confidence that a seller is dealing fairly. This is analogous to how an SUP process utilizing best practices needs to include a disclosure of a review of external effects about its proposed project. This requirement is customary in the most urban and progressive counties in NC and was the cornerstone of the SUP language adopted by the Board of Commissioners in 2011. It is in the best interest of our community and minimizes the opportunity for the applicant to withhold information that is necessary for the Board of Commissioners to make informed decisions on whether an intensive industry is an appropriate use for our area.

During this most recent Planning Board work session, Hal Kitchin, of McGuireWoods LLP,  a legal representative for clients in industry and development interests, recommended alternative language requiring intensive industry to simply list “anticipated” permits from federal, state, and local agencies. This does not provide a full description of an intensive industrial applicant’s proposal and does not provide the needed clarity or objectiveness in the review process.

New Hanover County has a legacy of 29 superfund sites that were developed under the guise of state and federal oversight. State and federal regulatory agencies do not adequately protect a local region’s natural assets, including air and water quality and quantity.  As another example, no state or federal requirement currently exists to regulate the amount of groundwater that an industry may extract from the region.

Without a local SUP process of disclosure and an evaluation of impacts, an intensive industry could withdraw an unlimited volume of public groundwater resources, and potentially pollute this same water supply. In a county with predictions of increased growth which could affect the quantity and quality of clean drinking water, this scenario could have devastating impacts on our current residents, businesses, economy and human health. These experiences of existing and proposed intensive industries in New Hanover County demonstrate the need for an informed, educated local decision process with regard to whether certain heavy intensive industries are appropriate for this community.

What Happens Next

Another Planning Board work session is scheduled for December with a Planning Board public hearing in January with an anticipated action by the Board of Commissioners in February 2017. Stay tuned for those finalized dates and times.

What You Can Do

It is imperative our community stays engaged by writing Letters to the Editor, Op-Eds and meeting with the Planning Board members and the Board of Commissioners.

Thank you for your continued support and engagement,

The North Carolina Coastal Federation Advocacy Team