ECOSYSTEMS AND PROTECTED AREAS MONITORING IN HONDURAS
This is the monitoring, evaluation and response programme of the Honduras protected areas system, SINAPH in Englis. The Spanish version is posted here. For downloading: Monitoring Honduras , document with field forms. This document was written for Honduras, but is applicable anywhere using different indicator species.
MONITORING, EVALUATION AND RESPONSE PROGRAMME
FOR THE HONDURAN PROTECTED AREAS SYSTEM, SINAPH
Marco Tulio López
Financed by PROBAP / World Bank / GEF
Prepared by WICE
2. OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE OF THE M&E PROGRAM
3. BASIC CONCEPTS
3.1 Main users
3.2 Threats, irregularities and responses
3.3 Characteristics of the Design of the M&E Program
3.3.1 Budgetary constraints
3.3.3 Participation of field personnel
3.3.4 Transparency and verification
3.3.5 Participatory design
3.3.6 Central American Database for the Monitoring of Ecosystems
3.4 Monitoring the results and impacts of programs and policies
4. THE M&E PROGRAM
4.1 Sedentary organisms
4.1.1 Terrestrial ecosystems
4.1.2 Marine ecosystems
4.2 Mobile organisms
4.2.1 Species with potential to be included in a monitoring, evaluation and response program
5. INTERNAL EXECUTION
5.1 Permanent monitoring by field personnel
5.2 M&E Personnel and Structure
5.2.1 Forest Rangers
5.2.2 The M&E Coordinator
5.2.3 Directors of Protected Areas
5.2.4 Definition of an internal M&E Program
5.2.5 Service rounds
5.2.6 Maps on the Conservation Status of Parks
5.2.7 Standard Service Form
6. EXTERNAL M&E
6.1.2 Complementary inventory of indicator species
6.1.3 Specialized M&E
8. LIMITS OF ACCEPTABLE CHANGES
9. PERIODIC OVERFLIGHTS
10. ANNUAL INVENTORY OF INFRASTRUCTURE AND EQUIPMENT
11. NGOs, LINKS WITH THE COMMUNITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL
MONITORING, EVALUATION AND RESPONSE
The task of monitoring the SINAPH/MBC of Honduras has been depicted and developed in the context of GEF-financed projects in Honduras, and is described in the project document entitled “Conservation of Biodiversity in Honduras”, paragraph 184.108.40.206, among others:
“There is an urgent need for monitoring both the results of the GEF project and, on a broader scale, the status of biodiversity in the Honduran sector of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
AFE-COHDEFOR’s Socio-Environmental monitoring, evaluation and response System (SEMS) will be strengthened to incorporate variables that will allow us to get to know the potential of biodiversity and to identify critical areas within the Honduran biological corridor. The monitoring, evaluation and response system will allow us to assess good management indicators and to establish adequate procedures to correct mistakes.
In order to unify criteria on the monitoring of biodiversity in the biological corridor, adequate mechanisms will be established to coordinate these activities with the monitoring, evaluation and response system to be implemented by the Regional Mesoamerican Project of the Biological Corridor.”
The concept of an ecological monitoring, evaluation and response program was first developed in 1996 by Dr. Adrian Forsyth in his document, “monitoring, evaluation and response”. Because of its novelty, it has since served as a model concept for many other projects, particularly for the concepts of monitoring and service rounds introduced by Richard Smith, former director of the USA National Park. This resulted in the development of complementary ideas and experiences in the region which have also contributed to the strengthening of the original concepts.
2. OBJECTIVE AND SCOPE OF THE M&E PROGRAM
Any policy for a given country requires its main actors (administrators, beneficiaries, stakeholders, politicians, citizens, NGOs, etc) to be informed of its effectiveness. This implies that the effects of the policy have to be measured and assessed through continuous measuring or a “monitoring, evaluation and response” program. The challenges of a monitoring program include:
In this respect, the Honduran policy involves the conservation of the protected areas of the SINAPH and the sustainable use of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. The Honduran portion of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor includes the set of protected natural areas under special management regimes (core areas, buffer zones, multiple use, etc.) and interconnecting zones, organized and consolidated as a territorial regulatory system (SINAPH) to offer a series of goods and services to the Honduran, Central American and world society; it also provides spaces for discussion and consensus on the promotion of the conservation of biodiversity and investment in the sustainable use of the natural resources, with a view to contributing to enhance the quality of life of the country’s inhabitants.
This ambitious goal involves several important aspects. Each one has its own key elements for the collection of data and its unique method for interpretation. The measurement of the effectiveness of the achievement of this mission can be divided into two components:
SERNA and DAPVS have already decided to carry out their monitoring tasks according to the above-mentioned division, taking advantage of the administrative monitoring methodology developed by PROARCA/CAPAS for the analysis of their administrative operations and their social successes, as well as the development of a new M&E component to (a) measure the status of the conservation of biodiversity in situ, (b) measure changes, and (c) reveal threats, with a view to responding effectively and measuring the effectiveness of actions taken. This document deals with this second component. Clearly, it will be impossible to draw a strict line between the two; sometimes you tend to delve into the first component without going into any detail, though.
The objective of the ecologic monitoring program of Honduras is:
To provide ecologic monitoring, evaluation and response for the SINAPH and all the territory covered by the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor which will facilitate information on the status of the conservation of biodiversity in the monitored areas to politicians (ministers, mayors, etc.), management and main actors such as scientists and conservationists, the tourist sector, neighboring communities and residents of the management areas, as well as on the changes and threats to the conservation of the biodiversity so that the administrative entities may respond accordingly and measure the effectiveness of the policies and measures.
It has a modular and decentralized application; it can be well used, individually, by an independent administration of a management area, and can be incorporated into a national information network.
Any M&E system is subject to its own objectives and methods, and its results vary accordingly. In general terms, the current system focuses on a given area and not on the monitoring of development or investment projects such as roads, industrial investments, urbanization, etc., which usually require the collection of specific data. The achievements and changes generated by concrete projects should be monitored and financed within the context of the projects themselves. The system, however, will generate a large amount of data which will assist in the assessment of project achievements, impacts and challenges. It is recommended that – according to need - the database presented in this document be used to render the information compatible and thus maximize the value of the collected data.
3. BASIC CONCEPTS
3.1 Main users
The main users of this M&E Program are the following:
3.2 Threats, irregularities and responses
The M&E program cannot be designed without considering the different categories of threats to the SINAPH. In this model each protected area to be monitored is treated in the beginning as a decentralized unit, with independent monitoring tools. The tendency both in Honduras and in the rest of the world is the abatement of natural habitats and threat to, or extinction of, flora and fauna due to the deterioration of the quality of the habitats, invasions of exotic species and over-exploitation. To reduce stress between protected areas and neighboring productive lands, it is critical to develop cooperative programs with nearby communities. The M&E system, however, cannot ignore the fact that there will always be conflict of interests with individuals, communities or groups with special interests who wish to modify and make use of protected areas to their own advantage vis-a-vis national benefit. An M&E system must focus on threats of this nature and give the administration an early warning so that it can respond on the basis of adequate and timely information. The main threats include:
These categories refer to direct phenomena, not to their causes. For example, a road may very well improve the access to a forest, which in turn may lead to accelerated deforestation. In this case, the direct phenomenon will be registered as habitat transformation or illegal exploitation, whatever the cause. People in charge of interpreting data must correlate observed phenomena with their core causes.
It should be noted that in the future, the protected areas in Honduras could very well be confronted with other types of threats, such as invasion of exotic species, epidemic diseases and other factors. Currently, however, these are minor concerns, except maybe in the case of aquatic and insular ecosystems which are particularly sensitive to invasive exotic species and diseases. In light of the objectives of the project, the main components of an M&E program are:
This document deals particularly with components 5, 6 and 7.
3.3 Characteristics of the M&E Program Design
Above all, an M&E program should be a tool for park management, designed to maintain the viability of managed areas. The M&E program should thus exhibit the following characteristics:
3.3.1 Budgetary constraints
Protected area managements everywhere are subject to strong pressure to execute costly research studies and monitoring, evaluation and response programs. Main actors (scientists, NGOs, international donors, etc.) in countries all over the world recognize the need for a monitoring, evaluation and response program, but each one wants his particular parameter of interest to be monitored. It will never be possible to satisfy the needs of all the users, however, so it will always be necessary to decide which data, from which clients, can be generated by a general M&E program. Experienced administrators have concluded that a management administration should not spend more than 10% of its budget (including costs of the time invested by internal personnel with their equipment, such as transportation, computers, buildings) in monitoring programs and applied research addressed to the evaluation of data. This practical rule of thumb significantly reduces the scope of a monitoring and applied research program. The current program will lend support to the selection of parameters to be monitored and their intensity. During the first monitoring workshop, the DAPVS director emphasized that he was not going to be able to initiate all the parameters of the monitoring programs in all the areas simultaneously, so his plan is to apply different components according to a prioritized schedule.
Self-adaptability is mandatory in the Honduran socioeconomic context and in light of the dynamic nature of the threats to the ecosystems. On the basis of historical tendencies, we know that the threats to protected area systems change continually, and the monitoring program must be able to adjust accordingly. It is important, however, that the changes be compatible. It is a bad-monitoring practice to discontinue a program after a couple of years and start with something new. A monitoring program should be discontinued only if the original methodology cannot generate the expected information or if the information is no longer relevant or important. In the face of a new situation, it is better to analyze the extent of the program’s usefulness and look for a method which is both useful and allows compatibility between the collected data and new data. Funds permitting, of course, it is always possible to include additional data.
3.3.3 Participation of field personnel
The importance of field personnel participation will be explained later on in the document.
3.3.4 Transparency and verification
NGOs, research institutions and the media have vested interests in the conservation status of protected areas. It is therefore important that the data produced by the M&E program be shared. Since the interpretation of the data is always dependent on the analyst’s vision, it is essential that NGOs, research institutions and other actors have access to the data in order to voice their opinions about its validity, offer advise on the methodology and produce their own data in order to have a second opinion, if they so wish. It is therefore recommended that the information on the databases be of public property and that the stored data be distributed freely, preferably through Internet.
3.3.5 Participatory design
A monitoring program in not an end in itself. The data is generated for different users with interests which might well be parallel but different. Only through a participatory design can the benefits of the program be maximized and the users agree that the program has limitations in its scope.
3.3.6 The Central American Database for the Monitoring of Ecosystems
The Map of the Ecosystems of Central America, which consists of seven national maps, was produced in the context of the Central American regional project. The map is organized in a GIS and a Central American Database for the Monitoring of Ecosystems. Valuable data which will form part of the management area baseline has been collected in the context of this project. This database has been developed for the storage of ecological conditions of a specific site in a given moment. Its initial design is geared mainly to sedentary conditions, such as vegetation in a given site. Its conditions were developed firstly by botanists, and the fauna and management concepts are lacking. Among other things, this component will endeavor to add some of the concepts which are currently missing.
3.4 Monitoring Results and Impacts of programs and policies
The analysis of satellite images with the GIS program enables the monitoring of the deforestation process and the comparison of historic situations. The application facilitates the computerized detection of changes in vegetation coverage and a clear visual presentation. The methodology does have its setbacks though, and its value increases in combination with other forms of monitoring. One of the main problems of the GIS application is its slow reaction to the situation in the field because of the process required by a GIS: image taking, analysis of the availability of new images in Internet, purchase, arrival in the country, analysis by GIS analysts, and reporting to responsible parties. The methodology usually involves a considerable amount of time between the change in the field and the successful shooting of the image by the satellite which, in many cases in wet tropic areas, causes problems because of cloudiness. Many months usually go by between the shooting and the purchase of the image, and between the moment of the purchase and the interpretation, which can last up to a year. One and sometimes two years go by between the moment of a new deforestation area and its discovery by a GIS analysis on the basis of a satellite image. After such a long interval of time the situation has been consolidated and therefore does not leave much room to solve problems and take appropriate measures. Besides, in the scale of the economically feasible images (such as LANDSAT), partial and small scale deforestations are frequently below the sensibility detection.
A GIS analysis with satellite images is therefore a solid application for documentation and historical analysis and is thus suitable for understanding the results of the project and management and conservation policies in the medium and long term. Surely, the process is getting better and better with the fall of the prices of LANDSAT 7 images from $5,000 to $600. RADAR images can also enhance the speed of the process because they are not dependent on cloudiness. The CCAD/NASA project is experimenting with this, but the author believes that the GIS systems will not be useful for rapid detection purposes and early warning systems for a long time to come.
After having worked for two years in the production of the Map of the Ecosystems of Central America, and taking into consideration the constraints of the official channels of government and international entities, as well as technical limitations of the process itself, the author strongly believes that, for rapid detection and early warning of specific violations to the protected areas, a GIS system is still much too slow and insufficiently detailed to facilitate immediate answers. This situation can obviously change overnight, but at the moment an M&E program is needed, with direct observation and immediate feedback through a permanent observation program in the field, using periodic fauna inventories. In the meantime, the method based on remote sensing/GIS is both suitable and necessary for large scale change processes in the Biological Corridor as a whole, and to measure the success of policies and projects.
4. THE M&E BIOLOGICAL PROGRAM
4.1 Sedentary organisms
4.1.1 Terrestrial ecosystems
To establish a point of reference for the accomplishments and weaknesses in the management of the SINAPH/MBC, a baseline study is needed. The conservation of biodiversity is generally achieved through the conservation of ecosystems and not through the conservation of individual species. Vegetation is the expression of multiple ecological interactions, both historical and current, between climate, geology, topography, terrain, water, fire, fauna and human activities in any region of the world. Because of its dominance of the biomass in terrestrial ecosystems and its tendency to systematically cover the physical terrestrial surface, and because it is relative stationary, vegetation is the best indicator in ecosystems. The simplest and less costly method to monitor the ecological well-being of the SINAPH/BMC is through an assessment of the status of plant coverage which is representative of an ecosystem. To maximize natural plant coverage is to maximize the potential for the conservation of biodiversity. This proxy represents what is minimally necessary, but it is not enough to attain the objectives of the prioritized areas of the SINPAH/BMC and the DAPVS/SERNA policy.
In the 90s, Honduran ecologists identified the need for a better description of the vegetation than the one offered by Holdridge’s old map, which distinguishes among seven categories of vegetation for Honduras, on the basis of climatic criteria. This 70s map does not reflect the real situation of vegetation, only its potential. Therefore, a modern ecosystems map, which included aquatic ecosystems, was commissioned to botanists S.F. Iremonger and C. Nelson, with aquatic inputs from this author. The types of vegetation were classified on the basis of physiognomic and ecological characteristics of the site, using the UNESCO classification system, and published by Mueller Dombois, 1974. Life forms that are present and can serve as indicator species, as well as the structure of the vegetation, were considered to define the physiognomy. Ecological characteristics may refer to elevation (lowland, submontane, lower montane, higher montane), relief (flat, rolling, abrupt), nearness to water masses (coastal, riverside), wetland regimes (marshes) and salinity, type of substratum (rocks, accumulation of organic material, etc.)
In 1999, the CCAD sponsored the production of an ecosystems map for all of the Central American countries, financed by the World Bank / Government of Honduras /Government of The Netherlands, whose starting point were the existing maps in the UNESCO system. In this context, the maps of Costa Rica, Belize and Honduras have been updated with new images, more field studies and with terminological synchronization with the rest of the countries of the region.
The demarcation of the ecosystems was carried out on Pre-Mitch and Post-Mitch LANDSAT TM satellite images, printed on a scale of 1:250,000. The process of plotting lines between areas with different types of ecosystems was done by botanists, with the assistance of experts in the analysis of said images and the use of all basic information available (vegetation maps, climate, elevation, etc. publications, national experienced professionals).
More specifically, a detailed method was developed to characterize ecosystems in the field. The field methodology employed in each confirmed site was the square or parcel method, which has been used by several researchers in different sites and moments in time, among which are Hopkins, 1950; Fournier, 1970; Cruz Pérez, 1974; Rosales y Salazar, 1976; Oosting, 1984; López et al. 1992; Dallmeier, et al. 1992. They all state that for this method, the sampling unit for the collection of data admits any form (square, rectangle, circle, etc.) and size (from 1 cm2 to several m2 or km2), depending on the type of vegetation and the objectives pursued by the researchers. They also acknowledge that it is one of the most reliable and appropriate methods for determining the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of vegetation, as well as its floristic composition, structure, density, frequency, and coverage through its basal area, highlighting the importance of each one in the study site. Since the square method is a useful one, this research used 25m radius circles (50m en diameter) as sampling units, and within this area data were collected to characterize all biotic and abiotic aspects of each site, nucleus or georeferenced parcel.
In the context of the national and regional mapping project, the generic description of 25m-radius parcels has been sufficient. In the context of the monitoring of protected areas, the region’s botanists (including Honduran botanists) concluded that the gradual selection of permanent parcels, well chosen within the protected areas in order to be able to detect changes in the composition of species within the ecosystems of a protected area, is required. In-depth studies will be encouraged through cooperation agreements between universities, in which DAPVS will facilitate transportation and lodging facilities so that professors and their students may visit the parcels, preferably on an annual basis.
4.1.2 Marine ecosystems
Generally speaking, the monitoring of marine ecosystems is very expensive and outside the scope of protected area management. It requires the use of boats, permanent marine measurement platforms and high maintenance equipment. Only a few countries in the world have in-depth marine monitoring programs, such as the United States, Canada, Norway, The Netherlands and Germany. In general, coastal countries devote themselves more to the monitoring of fishing production, a task which is being carried out in Honduras by the Directorate General of Fishing and Aquaculture (DIGEPESCA). These data are always interesting and an annual analysis is recommended in the context of biodiversity conservation.
Coralline ecosystems and other bentic ecosystems are sedentary by nature, and can be monitored with permanent parcels. There are methods for the registry of coralline parcels which are still unknown to the author. What’s important is to choose representative sites. It is likewise important to map whitened corals in order to follow their progress or recuperation. Since sub-aquatic monitoring is extremely expensive, it is necessary to seek out collaboration from voluntary entities and diving schools. Bentic ecosystems are generally monitored in the context of water quality concerns. These studies are expensive and outside the scope of DAPVS/SERNA.
A specific element related to the management of marine ecosystems is the spawning of marine turtles. Even though the information we have on them does not say too much about the status of the sea directly, it is important to have a record of spawning and hatching successes, more so because its conservation is a specific concern. Since 1995 there is an on-going project in the biosphere of the Rio Plátano for the conservation of tortugas. For more than 15 years there has been a program in the South for the conservation of the dolphin turtle. All the necessary data are being recorded in the context of these two projects. The collection of these data is important and it is advisable that DAPVS do its best effort to ensure that data collection is not interrupted in the future.
4.2 Mobile organisms
Habitat monitoring through the measurement of sedentary parameters is essential but not sufficient. It must receive inputs from mobile parameters to complement the integrated biota of the ecosystems. This requires information from populations of fauna species to become acquainted with the well-being of integrated ecosystems. But how do you determine what to monitor and what not? One thing is clear: it is not possible to monitor biodiversity in a broad sense. For example, the majority of biodiversity exists in the form of invertebrates, which are practically unknown to science. Therefore, certain fauna representatives must be selected as substitutes of biodiversity in general.
One of the problems when working with populations is that many wildlife populations undergo considerable natural fluctuations and consequently the data are useful only after a series of data have been collected for several years (at least 10). These consecutive series only exist for certain species and a continuous monitoring requires expensive scientific methods. Statistically less reliable but organizationally feasible is the collection of data by field personnel: mainly park rangers. They can observe and record the presence and geographical position of a selection of species which reflect the ecological well-being of an ecosystem. This objective requires the selection of a set of indicator species which, as a whole, possess the majority of the following characteristics:
Obviously, two taxa qualify for these criteria: birds and large mammals. Birds are well known and there is an abundance of experience readily available of the status of bird populations through mere observation. Zoological macro fauna – particularly deer, agouti, tapir, large felines, red coatis, peccaries and monkeys – because it is subject to poaching, may also work out well in a set of indicators. Marineros (personal communications, 2000) provides evidence of the fact that the degree of visibility and shyness of species whose timidity greatly diminishes in the absence of poaching, are important indicators of success in the reduction of poaching. Some examples include deer, agouti, red coatis, peccaries and monkeys.
Concern about the viability of macro fauna populations will definitely decrease as the extension of natural habitats outside the protected areas decreases. In particular, species with large territories such as feline, tapirs, the Harp Eagle, ???guacamote????? and the King Buzzard are at risk of inbreeding and other risks inherent to isolated populations. In order to completely understand their conservations status, these animals merit special monitoring. Nevertheless, because the monitoring of their populations requires in-depth research, it is very expensive and requires long-term financial commitment to be valid. This type of monitoring does not seem to be financially feasible for DAPVS/SERNA. This could only be achieved through external collaboration, with a university perhaps, who has its own program and financing. What can take place is specific observation in the context of the park rangers’ service rounds.
The SINAPH needs to generate income from visitations in order to be able to pay for its management. Lately, the SINAPH’s success in doing conservation of prioritized areas depends, among other things, on its ability to generate income from eco-tourism. Consequently, it needs to conserve “star” species which attract visitors, such as the large mammals and birds with a lot of color. Species which are economically important merit special attention in a monitoring program.
The use of key species in an M&E program is also relevant for the long-term ecological viability of the system. For example, monkeys, large ungulates such as the peccary and the deer, and fruit-eating birds act as seed scatterers. If they are decimated by poaching, the regeneration of tree species in climax forests will not be possible. This will result in the decrease of food resources for other species of fauna and ecological degradation. This is why it has been argued that many areas with intact habitats are not ecologically viable because of the disappearance of key animal species, thus also loosing their economic viability.
It should be noted that the phenomenon which an indicator species represents should not be able to be observed in a better way through other parameters. For example, it makes no sense to monitor deforestation through a typical bird belonging to agricultural lands, if we can better detect deforestation, and with much more precision, by direct observation. On the other hand, it is not that easy to measure the initial stages of deterioration in corals, but the invasion of algae is an important indicator that conditions are deteriorating.
4.2.1 Species with potential for a monitoring program
In an initial effort, the mammals of the Field Guide to Mammals in Honduras (Marineros y Martínez, 2000) were analyzed, as well as the birds in A Field Guide to the Birds of Panama (Ridgely & Gwynne, 1993), A Field Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica (Styules, Cs., 1995), and The Birds of Mexico and adjacent Areas (Edwards, 1998). On the basis of these guides, the ability of the best candidates was assessed for monitoring purposes. Some herpetic species of special concern were added. Table 1 shows a list of pre-selected species as well as some of their key characteristics for a monitoring program.
Table 1: Potential indicator species with key monitoring characteristics1
During the workshop, the need and feasibility of including species of migratory butterflies was assessed, and it was agreed that entomologist Ir. Jan Meerman was to be consulted on the issue.
5. INTERNAL EXECUTION
5.1 Permanent monitoring by field personnel
What was previously called surveillance or vigilance is simply an effort to observe and assess changes, to communicate with the different actors and to prevent non-scheduled changes in management areas in the SINAPH where park rangers are present. Visitation management involves communication with visitors and the prevention of unacceptable changes. All of these functions are closely related and it is not advisable to separate them. The annex proposes an M&E program for the protected areas of the SINAPH on the basis of regular functions of field personnel, whose operational costs are minimal. This type of monitoring integrates all management activities, for which park rangers constitute the core personnel, complemented with voluntary park rangers from neighboring communities.
To reduce stress between protected areas and neighboring productive lands, it is critical to carry out cooperation programs with adjoining communities, and the M&E program would assume this initial approach. This program, however, cannot ignore the fact that there will always be conflict of interests with individuals, communities or groups with special interests who wish to modify and make use of protected areas and regions for personal or local gain versus the national interest. An M&E program should focus on these types of threats in order to be able to give management an early warning to respond quickly in such cases.
From an eco-tourist point of view, the economic viability of the SINAPH is directly related to the ecological integrity of the SINAPH, who has the tourist jewels. If protected areas are ecologically degraded by the destruction of habitats and poaching activities, the main source of income – wildlife as a tourist attraction – will also be damaged. Consequently, vigilance must be seen as an integral part of the management and exploitation of the protected areas of the SINAPH. Nevertheless, from a modern philosophy point of view, the activities of the park rangers are not focused on vigilance, but on offering services, communicating and monitoring. Therefore, the concept of patrolling and patrols is no longer functional. In this document we prefer to introduce a term which better reflects the multiple services rendered by park rangers: “service rounds”.
5.2 M&E Program Personnel and Structure
The internal monitoring program is based on three hierarchical levels. Each plays a different and complementary role which is vital to the process of collection of information, access, assessment and generation of a timely response:
Level on: the park rangers
Level two: the M&E coordinator
Level three: the director of the protected area
Level four: the DAPVS and/or AFE-COHDEFOR director
To fully understand the responsibilities of the personnel, Annex 3 explains their functions as developed by Richard Smith, former director of Yellowstone National Park, as well as by the author.
5.2.1 The Park Rangers
Because of his permanent presence in the field, park rangers are the most effective instruments for the observation of the conservation status of protected areas as a whole, including the nature of the interaction with society (communities, visitors, scientists, etc.), and advance it with immediate interventions through positive interaction with the actors. As they are partially recruited from the local population, park rangers are not only the eyes and ears of the SINAPH. They are also part of the direct liaison with local communities and are the main mediators to prevent and solve problems between their areas and neighboring communities. Any M&E program which is based primarily on professional scientific observers lacks an effective liaison between the observers and management personnel.
5.2.2 The M&E Coordinator
To enhance the professional nature of the M&E program in the selection of information to be monitored, the storage and compatibility of data, and the assessment and appropriate reporting of the information, a full-time academic is required (preferably a biologist with knowledge on computer programming), specialized in monitoring and management of information systems. This person is responsible for data collection protocols and analysis. He/she works closely with the park rangers and the directors, assisting in the collection of consistent, uniform, high-quality information. This position should be included in the central administration at a high level, reporting directly to the DAPVS and SERNA directors, serving as their ears and eyes and as their advisor. It should be emphasized, however, that the coordinator must also pay an annual visit to the prioritized protected area for periods of time long enough to provide technical leadership to the park rangers and carry out an in-depth collection of data. The position must be filled by an energetic person who is able to directly verify the status of the park. The M&E coordinator will actually work as a permanent trainer and evaluator.
5.2.3 The Directors of the Protected Areas
At a third level, the information which has been systematically collected by the park rangers must be analyzed and reported directly to the area director. He can then decide whether a particular action is justified and the nature of the action. In any event, the decision must always be informed within a period of time no greater than a week. This type of feedback to the park rangers is very important for the development of their judgment capabilities, assessment of the relevance of their observations and for incentive purposes.
Many times personnel voice interesting observations, ideas and opinions which never make it to the decision-making level. A recently retired U.S. park director, Richard Smith, told of his yearly experiences when he invited people of different levels of his team to talk with him about their opinions as to the park administration. This type of “monitoring” can be very useful even though it is not statistical, systematic nor can it be incorporated into the database very easily.
At this tertiary level, the DAPVS director is entrusted with the annual revision of the performance of each park director and the status of each park. This task must provide the bases for recommendations and interventions at cabinet and legislative level.
5.2.4 The definition of an internal M & E program
The preparation of a monitoring program begins with a workshop in which the program is defined and designed. Local indicators and appropriate measures need to be developed with the participation of the personnel who will ultimately be responsible for the collection of the information. Each protected area has to identify its specific threats. For example, certain regions may be threatened by illegal felling of trees or by poaching, others by invasions, and in the case of tourist areas, by the over-use of the trails. The program must be designed according to local needs by the people with the best knowledge of the locality. The personnel who have to collect the data will not do a very good job of collecting the data nor the users of using it if they do not trust the program and have no ownership of it. A design workshop could cover the following subjects:
On the basis of the results of the workshop, the M&E coordinator will then participate in the design of the monitoring system and the database for data storage. A monitoring specialist must help the representatives of the protected areas in the selection of key species, taking into consideration the problems, characteristics of the ecosystems and the feasibility of monitoring key species.
The main factor in the conservation of the ecological integrity of protected areas is the physical presence of park rangers. The main task of the park rangers which takes up most of their time is to move about the zones of the park and neighboring zones as well, collecting information and serving the public as they perform their rounds. They have to spend the better part of their work week doing service rounds, collecting information and spending time with neighboring communities. Their current practices, therefore, have to be modified to include a new and rigorous routine of service.
To do this, the directors or chiefs of the park rangers must prepare service plans to cover all areas of the park and neighboring zones. Typically, the plans must include routes to follow, periodical programs for the monitoring of transects, itineraries for personnel, monitoring in cooperation with NGOs and specific monitoring contracts, etc.
The patrols in the perimeters have a task to perform which is different from the wildlife surveys they carry out, which is described further ahead. Here, the park rangers must become public servants, always remaining in the vicinity of the perimeter of the park. As such, they are the park ambassadors and the links with local communities. They should be respected, and thus need training in community relations and socially acceptable behavior. The use of alcoholic beverages must be prohibited; a park ranger should be dismissed immediately if caught red-handed in the act of drinking (Richard Smith, 1998). The use of a uniform is a must. This is not the right place to discuss the details of a training program for park vigilantes and their responsibilities. However, the central role played by the park rangers in M&E and in the viability of the area is worth mentioning.
A map of private properties and infringements must be updated monthly for each area, on the basis of the information collected by the park rangers during their service rounds. The analysis should be outsourced (usually to an NGO), and the park rangers can record the mutations. This map should be the core of the monitoring of deforestation in protected areas. The park rangers have to obtain information on the legal owners of the lands, the status of their title, new inhabitants, the use of the land, means of access, eventual expansion of its use (number of felled trees, surface and in cubic meters). This was originally done in cartographic sheets, but it is gradually being done in decentralized GIS.
The park rangers need to record all their observations, incidents and monitoring data in a standard format. All important observations must be incorporated in a GPS reference. If no contact can be found with the satellites to fix the position, reference should be made to a topographical location such as a river, a town, etc.
Annex ??? presents a “patrol log” model of Yellowstone Park, adopted for a monitoring program in Honduras. The preparation of the bird lists for each park is a very useful marketing tool, since a complete list of species, including rare, endemic and spectacular ones, can attract the attention of amateur ornithologists and ecologists. Thus, in its second page, the format may contain a checklist of the birds found in a particular protected area which may be completed on a voluntary or optional basis. The value- added of a checklist of an area is what stimulates rangers to observe carefully during their service rounds and to learn more about the biology of their area.
Although much information can be collected during service rounds, it is also recommended to prepare monitoring transects to be used for statistical census-taking of fauna and not for other uses such as visitation. Certain techniques are available to collect statistically correct information if the observation protocols are standardized (two or three transects per park). Standardization is important in order to be able to compare data from different years and different areas. It is also possible to add parameters, but changes in methodology hinder comparisons. Especially trained park rangers could dedicate part of their time (maybe 10%) to census-taking. It could be done 4-6 times a year. In this way, with one trained park ranger per day per site, 18 park ranger days a year would be needed for six sites. Taking into account a round trip for each transect, the real time for this exercise is barely additional to the regular work of a park ranger. To the extent possible, it is important that the dates for the census be the same in all protected areas.
In the United States all amateur associations of ornithologists organize a national census where they involve the greatest possible number of ornithologists of the country in the same day. This is an ornithological tradition known as the Christmas Count. There is a lot of statistical debate about the level of representation of these data, but nobody can deny that this information is valid as part of the information on the status of birds in the United States. It is recommended that DAPVS / SERNA initiate a similar exercise in which all the amateurs of the country are involved in the national count of birds and mammals in protected areas. If it is impossible to cover the entire country in one single day with the people available, then the event might have to be organized during the course of several days. DAPVS could organize the transportation and the GPS.
It is advisable that each protected area maintain its own checklist of mammals and birds, and to the extent possible, of herpetofauna. A checklist of the flora would be more difficult and it would depend somewhat on the interest of the personnel. The checklists may be published in www.birdlist.org, the Internet site which published the checklists of birds in all countries of the world, with its main hot spots. The website was recently developed by WICE with young biologists from different parts of the world and because it is so complete, it has become an important source of information for ecotourism.
For efficiency reasons and lack of funds, AFE-COHDEFOR will not be able to maintain sophisticated and in-depth M&E programs. Experiences in developed countries suggest that more and more environmental agencies are privatizing their labs and monitoring and research institutions. It would not be a modern practice to recommend the creation of a division with monitoring and research tasks within AFE-COHDEFOR. Any task in addition to what was previously described would be more efficiently carried out by outsourcing to universities, NGOS and other specialized institutions.
Populations of species which are registered in UICN’s Red Book, rare, endemic, threatened or endangered species are frequently chosen for studies and monitoring. The populations of such rare species, however, require an in-depth monitoring program, and an M&E program based on their populations normally does not produce information on biodiversity as a whole which cannot be observed more rapidly and easily than with other types of observations. 2 Above all, a detailed monitoring of total populations of species is very expensive and requires a lot of expertise which is generally beyond the capacities of a first generation of park rangers. For a greater understanding of the biota as a whole and of certain key species in their totality, DAPVS must promote the presence of biological researchers in the SINAPH and their active involvement in research and M&E. This is achieved through the construction of multiple use centers with basic lodging facilities for scientists.
There are opportunities to initiate programs of this type with the help of institutes such as the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States (for migratory species of birds). The DAPVS should seek the collaboration of national and international entities which are interested in carrying out or financing monitoring programs.
Ideally, the SINAPH database should be compatible with the database of the Map of Ecosystems to benefit from the richness of the information as a monitoring baseline and to take advantage of the fact that it is an integral part of the regional map of ecosystems of Central America. It should likewise incorporate the national map of ecosystems as its baseline, so that the data are related geographically with different ecosystems. Data on species (by internal and external monitoring) should be geographically related to the baseline of the analysis of the vegetation and the ecosystems map. Thus, in the course of the years, very valuable information will be generated on geographic distribution, all related to ecosystems.
The monitoring coordinator is the person mainly responsible for maintaining the system operational and for helping the locals with the maintenance of their local system.
Data have to be standardized and stored in individual desk top computers, preferably with electronic connectivity to e-mail. It is recommended that the project finance the purchase of computers for all key offices, with processors greater than 750 MHZ for generic management as well as for the storage of monitored data. The use of this equipment may be multiplied with the use of Buddy graphic cards which allow the simultaneous use of up to five users of the same computer. Each park ranger chief or administrator must incorporate the data contained in the service round formats in the system on a weekly basis, and send the information on a monthly basis to a collector computer at headquarters.
To avoid the creation of artificial visitations limits based on artificial formulas, it is advisable to substitute carrying capacity studies and adopt a modern adaptive policy of “limits of acceptable change”, which involves a permanent monitoring, evaluation and response process of the impacts and the implementation of mitigation measures necessary to maintain the changes in acceptable conditions. The indicators must be bio-physical (part of the species indicator game, animal behavior, damages to coral reefs), and social (surveys). The administrators then have to establish standards on what type of change is acceptable before adopting new management strategies. For example, if the visitors say that there are too many people on the trails or the park rangers report erosion of the trails, the administrators can modify the strategies to reduce the number of visitors allowed in the trails, change the routes or pave frequented trails. A “limits of acceptable change” policy requires that the administrators have good information available on the resources, that they define changes that are acceptable, that they monitor the use, and that they recognize if the limits are exceeded. Since the experience of the public varies, and infrastructure measures have a bearing on ecological sensitivity, the administrators must adopt new management strategies and assess and redefine the limits of acceptable changes each time new significant changes are implemented, so that the conditions of the resources and the experiences of the visitors fall again within these limits.
In order to follow the ecological impact of visitations, both on the local and regional economy, it is extremely important to have a standardized system which registers the number of admissions to protected areas. The sale and issuance of entrance tickets3 must be registered meticulously. In order to do so, the central office has to provide the tickets (in rolls or notebooks, for example) and keep a record of how many are destined for each protected area and how many are actually used. As long as an entrance charge is not feasible, it is important that the number of visitors be counted. In highly visited sites, periodic assessments are needed of the state of the trails, land compression, erosion and other effects. The M&E coordinator and the park directors need to take these factors into account in their annual planning.
Inspection over flights are recommended at an altitude of around 300m to cover the perimeters of all prioritized protected areas. Ideally, 2 to 4 over flights should be done per year. It is probably possible to obtain over flight programs from the NGO Lighthawk. These flights would involve the DAPVS director, the M&E coordinator, and the directors of each area, along with their chief park ranger. This would be an aerial verification of the information collected on land by the park rangers, and the synthesis of this information by the area directors. It would probably be worthwhile to photograph areas threatened by invasions. There is a camera system with GPS positioning which can be mounted on the wings of the aircraft for this type of job. Flights with photographic equipment should be done during the dry season, when the farmers usually clean their lands.
The status of the maintenance of the infrastructure and the equipment is frequently overlooked in a monitoring program. This information, however, is extremely important for an administration, as it involves information regarding budgetary planning and maintenance. In the case of trails, it includes information on erosion and trampling of the borders, important information on the physical impact of the visitation, such as erosion or other damages to the terrain (also coral reefs) or vegetation. Thus, every protected area needs to carry out an annual inventory following a standard method of registration of the state of the maintenance of the infrastructure and equipment. This component must be incorporated into the administrative monitoring component as a standardized element.
Environmental and development NGOs have an important role to play in M&E, particularly in the collection of socioeconomic data on the communities and the results of sustainable applications. NGOs frequently count with more information on the attitudes of the communities towards environmental issues and on their problems and opportunities. This type of information goes beyond the scope of AFE-COHDEFOR, but this knowledge is important for the management of the areas. Their support to, and influence over, the communities and the mass media may have a positive bearing on conservation. Thus, it is recommended that wherever they are present, environmental and development NGOs must be formally involved in the execution of surveys (annuals or every two years), and the collection and assessment of data. The communities themselves can also participate in the monitoring process, particularly through the program of volunteers.4
NGOs should be given the chance to participate in the collection of data and of incorporating them into the databases of AFE-COHDEFOR. AFE-COHDEFOR’s data should be available to all NGOs so that they can use and interpret them according to their own criteria. NGOs should also have access to annual M&E workshops.
Several of the protected areas provide water for adjacent communities. The monitoring of relevant data in this case is the responsibility of the producers of potable water. They have a vested interest in the maintenance of river basins, and their data on the quality and quantity of water may prove useful for the management of the park. An exchange of data may definitely be useful, depending on the case.
The value of the management areas is also reflected in ?????????and other natural products of the area. This information is difficult to interpret; information collected on skins, teeth, and medicinal herbs offer no assurances of the origin of these products. Hunters are generally not reliable sources because they are caught in a dilemma at the moment they give the information: on the one hand, they love to exaggerate their abilities as hunters, and on the other, they fear that the information they give may be used against them, particularly if it relates to poaching. This information, however, can be useful to determine the importance of an area for a local population and the traditional use of the fauna, as well as to determine the presence and abundance of certain animals. The collection of this type of information is better incorporated into the administrative monitoring, as it has reflects social aspects and its collection requires special survey techniques.
Park directors must prepare annual reports on the status of the conservation of their parks, which includes data on threats, confirmed infringements with the corresponding response and its effectiveness, as well as ecological improvements (deforestation, regeneration of vegetation, recuperation of key animal populations, etc.). This report must be prepared in collaboration with the park rangers and the M&E coordinator.
The Annual Report on the status of the conservation of each park must be accessible for revision and comments. It should be noted that this report not only includes descriptive information on biodiversity and anthropogenic changes, but it may contain recommendations on national policies, rules and laws.
On the basis of data on the protected areas, specific surveys and periodic assessment of the SINAPH, the M,E&R coordinator must prepare an annual evaluation report, focusing on the achievements and failures of the SINAPH conservation program and the conservation of the SINAPH itself. The national director must review it and distribute it on a wide scale to NGOs, interested communities and other government institutions. This report can provide the basis for recommendations and interventions at cabinet and legislative levels. It should likewise serve as one of the several criteria for the assessment of the performance of each director and the status of the conservation of each protected area.5
1 Final results pending from the minutes of the workshops.
2 This does not mean, however, that rare species should not be included in generic monitoring. Data on their presence and absence are definitely important, but usually do not represent detailed enough data to reflect complete populations.
3 A mechanism for the registry of visitors is described in the document entitled “Price Structuring”.
4 Annex 2: KEY PERSONNEL
5 This is precisely the reason why he/she should participate in inspections flights.
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