Image of a man smiling while operating a tablet.

Harnessing Technology to Protect Forests and Biodiversity in the Philippines .

Conservation efforts in the Philippines mobilize user-friendly technology and government, community, and private sector partnerships in the fight against deforestation.

With more than 20,000 species of plants and animals native to the country, the Philippines is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Much of this biodiversity is contained in natural forest areas, but these once-lush forests and their biodiversity are degrading at an alarming rate. Over time, the country has lost approximately two-thirds of its forest cover, and more than 800 species of its fauna and flora are listed as either endangered or threatened. Today, the Philippines is working to stop biodiversity loss and preserve what remains of its fragile forests.

From lawmakers to ecologists, the sense of urgency to safeguard the Philippines’ protected environmental areas is widespread. Unfortunately, the tools to do so are not. For communities directly affected by the degradation of biodiversity and forest resources, conservation may be essential for their livelihoods. So how can we make use of technology to protect forests and biodiversity for the people who need it most?

Making such technology available to stakeholders on the frontlines of the conservation effort has been a major accomplishment of USAID’s Biodiversity and Watersheds Improved for Stronger Economy and Ecosystem Resilience (B+WISER) program. With the data collected by an innovative forest and biodiversity protection system, environmental conservation is becoming not only tech-savvy, but also inclusive of local governments and communities that face environmental threats firsthand.

"LAWIN will help the national level obtain information directly from the field, those in the front lines, so that we can make informed decisions."

Ricardo Calderon, DENR Forest Management Bureau Director

The LAWIN Forest and Biodiversity Protection System

To prevent further environmental degradation, the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) designates protected areas across the country, ranging from large natural parks to wildlife sanctuaries. Through the B+WISER program, Chemonics and USAID aim to improve the management of these protected areas. But conserving 780,000 hectares of forests and watersheds is no small undertaking.

Together with DENR, the program developed the LAWIN forest and biodiversity protection system for forest managers and community patrollers to efficiently collect information on forest condition, environmental threats, and indicator species of forest health. With this information, the country can implement interventions that address threats and reverse trends of degradation. Prior to LAWIN, forest guards and protected area staff relied on a paper-based process of manually recording patrol data and entering it into computers. LAWIN replaces this manual data-recording process with tablets and smartphones, via an app developed through the open source software, CyberTracker.

LAWIN identifies “biodiversity hotspot” areas — areas that are a significant reservoir of biodiversity, yet face extreme threats of degradation. The system then uses an open-source geographic information system software (Quantum GIS) to analyze forest cover change data and identify priority areas for protection. These areas are used to design patrol sectors, where forest guards and community patrollers focus their protection efforts.

The patrol data recorded in tablets by trained forest managers and community patrollers syncs with a computer and imports to another software called the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART). This software not only determines the amount of patrol effort conducted in terms of distance covered and hours spent, but also shows trends in terms of the number of observed threats and the number of observed indicator species per unit of patrol effort. These indicator species reflect the well-being of the Philippines’ biodiversity, and SMART makes it possible to analyze and visualize their exact location on maps. A decreasing trend in threats and an increasing trend in observed indicator species means improving forest conditions. These are indicators of forest health, which help environmental authorities to monitor and continuously improve the effectiveness of the program’s approach to address observed threats.

With a system that quickly identifies and addresses forest and biodiversity threats, the Philippines’ conservation efforts are reaching new heights.

But the vulnerable communities who witness these threats firsthand can also have a voice in defining conservation efforts in the Philippines.


forest patrollers trained by the B+WISER program in the pilot testing for LAWIN


species of plants and animals native to the Philippines


of the country’s population reside in the uplands where most of the Philippines’ forests are located

Rallying Local Communities for Conservation

Thirty percent of the country’s population, including 12 to 15 million indigenous peoples, reside in the uplands where most of the Philippines’ forests are located. For the B+WISER program and DENR, climate resilience requires community engagement. And sustainably implementing LAWIN depends on the active participation of government forest rangers, protected area staff, ecologists, lawmakers, conservation advocates, and local communities.

Most of the 670 forest patrollers trained by the B+WISER program in the pilot testing for LAWIN are indigenous peoples. Their intergenerational conservation efforts lend a unique perspective to monitoring the protected areas they call home. With such community engagement in the fight against environmental degradation, the LAWIN system bridges the gap between conservation advocates on the ground and national-level government staff working on protected area management.

“LAWIN will help the national level obtain information directly from the field, those in the front lines, so that we can make informed decisions,” says Ricardo Calderon, the DENR’s Forest Management Bureau director.

By enabling better coordination of forest and biodiversity monitoring efforts and environmental law enforcement, LAWIN helps resource managers and environmental law enforcers get the information they need more quickly. Management and enforcement authorities also use patrol data collected by LAWIN to track progress to meet conservation targets.

To supplement this pioneering technology, the #iSupportLAWIN multimedia campaign publicizes efforts to protect the Philippines’ forests. With testimonies from community patrollers, government stakeholders, and more, the LAWIN system is celebrated as an inclusive and innovative frontier in the path toward climate resilience and forest conservation.