Healthy Forest, Healthy People: Remote Sensing and Monitoring Support Implementation of Community Forestry

Eric T. Kaiser
Test Forward Solutions San Diego, CA, USA

Kimberly Roberts
University of Montana Minneapolis, MN, USA

Jamlong Pawkham
Upland Holistic Development Project Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bunsak Thongdi
Upland Holistic Development Project Mae Ai, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Robert Morikawa
Plant With Purpose Scarborough, ON, Canada

Doug Satre
Plant With Purpose San Diego, CA, USA

Abstract: Thailand, with one of the world’s highest rates of forest destruction, has been under pressure to enact policies to reduce the loss of forest habitat. The government has responded by designating forests as protected areas, restricting access and use for the forest-dwelling communities and maintaining a threat of eviction. These marginalized communities frequently receive the blame for forest degradation, regardless of empirical data that indicates forest communities are more often part of the solution than part of the problem. Community Forestry (CF) presents an opportunity for a village to simultaneously manage forest land sustainably, and improve its standard of living. We show that satellite and land-based mapping and monitoring tools can significantly improve the effectiveness of a CF program. Haui Lu Luang village began implementing its CF program in the late 1970’s to preserve its forest land and meet the needs of its residents. Two non-governmental organizations, Upland Holistic Development Project and Plant With Purpose, were invited to the village in 2006 to enhance, evaluate and document the program with the hope of gaining formalized land tenure rights. Starting in 2007, community-based mapping efforts, using Global Positioning System (GPS) data collection and Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, documented forest boundaries according to local understanding. Community development and technical improvements to the program continued, culminating in a 2011 assessment of the effectiveness of the forest management and the effects on the livelihoods of the residents. As a part of the assessment Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data were analyzed to indicate the overall effect of the CF

program on the forest vegetation. We report sustained forest health and significant improvements in community standard of living. We recommend the further development of remote sensing and monitoring methods to measure long-term trends and identify areas for further improvement. Evidence presented here demonstrates empirically that local CF provides effective, sustainable forest governance and a potentially scalable forest management solution, transferable to other forest-dwelling communities. Key words: Hill Tribes, Community Forestry, GIS, NDVI



Deforestation and forest degradation are the second greatest anthropogenic contributors to greenhouse gas emissions [1], and the conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems is an important element of mitigating climate change [2]. Particularly in Southeast Asia, significant ecosystem damage has taken place due to deforestation, with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reporting that forest cover in Thailand decreased from an estimated 53.3% in 1961, to 28.4 % in 2005, although the rate of decline is decreasing [3]. Growing public concern over the rapidly dwindling forest resources led the Thai government in the 1980s to implement a nationwide logging ban. Despite the ban, illegal logging, mining, plantation development, local agriculture, population growth and poor land use practices continued to have a negative impact. The Royal Forestry Department (RFD)

developed new zoning policies for protected areas including National Parks and forest reserves. The protected areas were supposed to comprise more than a quarter of the total land area “in which human settlement and forest use is to be prohibited and resettlement enforced as far as possible” [4]. By 1996, over 790,000 “hill tribe” peoples of Thailand lived within the boundaries of protected areas [5]. Many of these forest-dwelling peoples are displaced ethnic minorities, mostly with roots in Myanmar, and due to their recent immigrant status have few legal rights and little political representation. Additionally, their location within forested areas increases the view that the hill tribes are the primary cause of damage to the forest [6]. To make matters more difficult, national forest policy makes it technically illegal for communities within national reserve forests to have any resource rights, although de facto rights are often recognized locally. The logging ban, the growing area of land designated as reserve forest, marginalization of the forest-dwelling peoples and legal discrepancies over land rights have increased the tensions over land use. An approach to settling this conflict is Community Forest Management, also known as Community Forestry (CF). CF is understood broadly as a common property resource management approach with governance elements designed by local people to organize and exercise their rights for the use and management of a forest area [7]. It can empower a community to govern its common resources, both to sustain the forest and to sustainably manage its resources. Table I lists program design elements that can indicate the success and sustainability of a common-pool resource institution such as CF [8]. Community Forestry’s effectiveness remains dependent on the degree that boundaries and rules for members are clearly defined, resource costs and conditions are understood and monitored, and the community leadership functions well in rule-making, enforcement and arbitration of disputes. In addition, to secure the right to organize and govern at the local level, higher-level government agencies often require supporting documentation as proof of capacity [9]. II. CASE STUDY: COMMUNITY FORESTRY IN HUAI LU LUANG



1. Clearly Boundaries 2. Congruence


Physical boundaries and drawing rights are clearly defined. Resource drawing rights are proportionate to cost and local conditions Community members participate in making. rule-

3. Collective–Choice Arrangements 4. Monitoring

Monitors audit resource conditions and member behavior, and are accountable to or are the community members. Violations of rules have proportionate to the offense. Conflict resolution is accessible and low-cost. local, sanctions

5. Graduated Sanctions

6. Conflict-Resolution Mechanisms 7. Minimal Recognition of Rights to Organize


The community’s right to organize itself is not challenged by external government authorities.

In the early 1970’s thirteen families, first displaced from southern China in the 1940’s and later by Myanmar in the 1960’s, established the village of Huai Lu Luang in Mae Yao sub-district, Muang district, Chiang Rai province, Thailand. Fig. 1 shows the location and a brief demographic profile of the village. A. Description of the Problem Huai Lu Luang is located within a national forest reserve alongside the Mae Kok River, which, as of spring 2012, the RFD is in the process of turning into the Mae Kok Basin National Park. Huai Lu Luang has no official land or access rights to their current land or resources, as all of the land they use is owned by the Thai government. Anticipating the risk of the loss of de facto rights to use the land without official land and forest tenure documents, the village organized its

CF program in 1977. However, policy pressure continues to increase, and the potential creation of a national park could severely restrict villagers’ access to the forest and impede their livelihoods [9]. Huai Lu Luang village, along with partnering non-governmental organizations (NGO) sought to improve and formalize their CF program, with the hope of obtaining more stable resource rights from the national government and improving relations with the RFD. More recently, the Thai government is attempting to improve soil quality and provide land to under-resourced communities, through the issuance of land rights certificates for communities living on state land. This new community land deed program gives priority to communities that demonstrate good land use planning with strong internal community controls and a commitment to caring for natural resources [10]. In 2006, the village invited Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP) and Plant With Purpose (PWP), NGOs that specialize in developing solutions to rural poverty and deforestation, to help improve CF effectiveness, documentation and land use planning through mapping, vegetative assessments, target group assessments and CF evaluations. B. Participatory Community Forest Mapping Huai Lu Luang village, along with a community watershed network of other villages and NGO’s, in 2006 requested tools and training to create maps to supplement what RFD officials had recorded as forest boundaries. UHDP and PWP introduced Global Positioning System (GPS) hand-held units and Geographic Information System

Huai Lu Luang Village Coordinates 29.03652N, 99.59476E Population 410 Households 90 Average 9000 baht income/year ($250) Primary Agriculture income Primary crop Rice Nearest Grade 9, 4 access to km away ducation Nearest 20 km away paved road Figure 1. Huai Lu Luang village, located in northern Thailand near the Myanmar border.

(GIS) software, which allowed the collection and analysis of spatial information for resource management by community members, government agencies and NGO partners [10]. Participatory mapping has been practiced for many years, but the use of base maps provided through GIS technology allows the community to be involved in the production of more accurate, detailed, and interactive maps with considerably less labor. Digitizing boundary data using GIS tools also permits the information to be more widely available. Increased computing capacity, along with higherbandwidth Internet connectivity and open source GIS software, has made GIS increasingly available, affordable and user friendly, and has also enabled small organizations such as UHDP to access and process a vast source of spatial data for the benefit of remote forest-dwelling communities. This community-based mapping process in Huai Lu Luang began with UHDP training village representatives in the use of GPS units. The GPS waypoints, designating latitude and longitude, collected from the Garmin Geko GPS units were then uploaded into an open source platform to map the CF boundaries. In the second phase, a participatory mapping process started with 1:4000 aerial photo base maps supplied by the RFD [11]. Community members, with technical support from UHDP staff, drew boundaries of farm, forest, and other significant land use areas. GIS technicians, working for a partner NGO, digitized this data to create the final maps. Preliminary draft maps were reviewed by community members and modified if necessary to ensure accuracy. Fig. 2 shows a map of land usage for the village, developed with UHDP assistance. Final maps and the associated data will be submitted to the RFD in both print and electronic copy to indicate the boundaries of the relevant community plots and to demonstrate that they have a sustainable management plan for both forest and farm land. From the village point of view, these maps are well accepted by community members and are seen as “trustable.”

C. NDVI Assessment of Vegetative Cover UHDP and PWP are working together to use satellitebased remote sensing tools to refine the assessment process for Huai Lu Luang village CF. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is an index based on satellitebased sensing data that quantifies vegetative cover and vegetative health. NDVI is calculated by comparing the rates of absorption of visible red and near-infrared solar radiation by plants. A high NDVI value indicates a high level of vegetative cover and a low NDVI value indicates low or no vegetative cover. For the purposes of this evaluation we used ESRI ArcGIS and the Spatial-Analyst extension for data processing and analysis, and pre-processed 30 day averages based on the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite system operated by

Figure 2.

Preliminary land use map for Huai Lu Luang shows land use areas and boundaries.

NASA. Resolution for this dataset is low, 1 kilometer, but data is available up to the current date, and allows the calculation of current vegetation change for areas anywhere in the world. While NDVI has long been accepted as a useful tool for measuring vegetation and vegetation change, its use by grassroots community networks such as those in the Mae Kok watershed for monitoring represents a relatively new application. For the Huai Lu Luang CF program, annual averages for NDVI values were created using values from the mid-dry season, mid-wet season, and the transition from wet to dry season in order to compensate the seasonal variability from the data. Average annual values for 2008 were subtracted from values for 2011 in order to create a vegetation change map for the project period. Change values were classified in five categories: strong negative change, moderate negative change, no change, moderate positive change, and strong positive change. Fig. 3 shows changes in NDVI for Huai Lu Luang and the surrounding watershed for the three-year period. Areas shown in green are areas where NDVI has increased, or where there is a strong likelihood that vegetative cover has increased. Areas in red show where NDVI has decreased, and areas in yellow indicate where the change in NDVI is close to zero, or where there has been little change in vegetative cover. A summary map averages NDVI changes over entire subwatershed regions and communities are found in four subwatershed regions. Two of the four, including the Huai Lu Luang study area, show positive/neutral change, while two show negative change. It is worth noting in all cases that the actual amount of change either positive or negative over the three year period is small, typically less than 3 percent. More studies are being conducted with longer time intervals to provide a baseline for tracking future changes. NDVI monitoring provides an independent and relatively low-cost assessment of long-term trends in vegetative cover that can be used as an overall metric to indicate CF program efficacy. D. Assessment of Program Results PWP and UHDP worked together with area villages to assess the effects of CF on the forest and the community for

the three-year period ending in 2011. 208 households were surveyed in 26 villages to determine the impact of CF programs. The results from a target group assessment and CF evaluation show significant positive results from improvements in the CF implementation over the three year period. Table II summarizes the survey findings [12]. Economically, the UHDP target group employing CF generally compared favorably with the non-target group, showing more frequent use of durable flooring materials, a greater number of rooms per household and higher frequency of cattle ownership. The target group also reports a higher frequency of saving cash than the non-target group. Nutritionally, UHDP member households are consuming meat, vegetables and fruit more often non-members. Target households show a significantly greater use (almost 4 times greater) of tree crops than non-member households. With respect to the environment, member households protect their land more often and plant more trees than nonmember households. Target group households use more crop diversity, citing almost twice as many crop types grown in the past 12 months compared to non-target households. Member families reported developing water-borne illnesses at nearly half the rate of non-member families, indicating better water quality in the target community. Member households perceive their local watersheds to be healthier. Finally, the target group is consistently sharing their knowledge learned from the UHDP program with others, with approximately two-thirds of participants sharing knowledge, and the average household sharing with nearly 8 other non-family members. In 2010 Roberts, in conjunction with UHDP, performed a separate evaluation of community development aspects of CF in Huai Lu Luang using the Ostrom scale of design principles for common-pool resource institutions [8]. The resulting ratings are summarized in Table III. Contrary to the view that forest-dwelling peoples are unfit to be stewards of their forest resources, Huai Lu Luang demonstrated capacity to be sound guardians of their CF in light of the internationally accepted criteria developed by Ostrom. Their capacity appears the strongest in the formation of the CF itself, the existence and function of a management

a. Average vegetation density for watershed

b. Change for three-year study period

c. Subwatershed results

Figure 3. NDVI assessment of program area shows changes in vegetation density over study period.



Target (CF) group Saving cash Average number of rooms Durable flooring Own cattle Eat meat, eggs, fish daily or weekly Eat fruit daily or weekly Average number of trees planted in past year 39% 3.22

Non-target group 27% 2.36

government of Thailand is attempting to protect the forests and, at the same time, support marginalized communities by issuing land rights certificates for communities living on state land. These CF program results, including mapping and NDVI assessments, will be presented to the Thai government with an application for a long-term community land deed. If granted, this deed would enable the village to continue to manage the forest locally using CF, for the benefit of the forest and the community. E. Recommendations: Remote Sensing and Monitoring The lack of legally recognized tenure rights prevents Huai Lu Luang village from exercising full, legal autonomy over their community forest, even if their daily use and management of the community forest remains unchallenged. However, formal tenure does not guarantee the sustainable use of a resource. The design and sustainability of CF management is directly tied to monitoring efforts, and it is in monitoring their CF that Huai Lu Luang exhibited the greatest need for improvement. Ostrom and Nagendra suggest that rigorous standardized monitoring is important to document changes in resource conditions and prevent resource overuse or degradation [13]. Huai Lu Luang villagers did express a willingness to learn and an ability to work within the framework provided by the RFD; however, further technology and training regarding how and what to monitor in the community forest represent a significant opportunity for improvement to Huai Lu Luang’s CF program [9]. Traditional vegetation field survey methods can be costly and time-consuming, requiring weeks to complete an assessment. In comparison, GIS vegetation monitoring tools, using publicly available remote sensing data, can be less expensive and less time-consuming, requiring only days instead of weeks. Combining GIS vegetation monitoring and local knowledge gathered through participatory methods, where community members are trained to do their own monitoring can create powerful, near real-time assessments for community-based CF projects. This is an approach that is being explored in the emerging field of participatory GIS (PGIS). Using GIS-generated basemaps with a hand-held device that allows monitors to indicate areas of importance such as new farming areas, burn areas or tree planting areas might better integrate GPS and monitoring tools. A hand-held device, e.g. a cell phone might be adapted with an application to report wildlife sightings or other feature changes, perhaps by text messaging (in Thai) with timestamp and GPS coordinates, simplifying and improving the accuracy of reported data. UHDP has the technical capacity to train community members in participatory monitoring, and to empower villagers in the process, but remote sensing methods are more technical and would likely require outside support. The availability of higher-resolution imagery could allow more detailed NDVI or other vegetation analysis, along with more sophisticated analyses such as time-series, or Breaks for Additive Season and Trend (BFAST) analysis [14]. These represent opportunities for further research and

64% 57% 79%

42% 50% 65%





committee, and in village unity. They established clear boundaries for the community forest, and the vast majority of CF users understands the rules of the forest and agrees with those rules. Huai Lu Luang has developed and demonstrated a high capacity for managing their forest resources in a way that meets the dual objectives of supporting community needs and protecting the forest. As local communities manage their own natural resources, there is an increase in forest restoration and resource availability in the field and forest, and more opportunities to reach up to higher levels of government agencies to achieve deeded ownership of resources [9]. Although the national policy process is complex, the

1. Clearly Defined Boundaries 2. Congruence 3. Collective–Choice Arrangements 4. Monitoring 5. Graduated Sanctions 6. Conflict-Resolution Mechanisms 7. Minimal Recognition of Rights to Organize

Strong. Strong. Strong. Moderate. Moderate. Very Strong. Moderate.

innovation that could improve the community’s response time to changing conditions in the forest resources, aiding both the resilience and the health of the forest and the forestdwelling community. III. CONCLUSIONS

[8] [9] [10]

Community Forestry, when well-implemented, can empower marginalized forest-dwelling villagers such as “hill tribes” to protect forests, while also sustainably managing forest resources for their livelihood. Clear definition of CF boundaries and management rules, and diligent monitoring of resource conditions, are critical factors for success. Satellite and community-based mapping and monitoring techniques address these needs and enhance the effectiveness of CF implementation. Assessment results confirm that CF can deliver long-term improvements in economic performance, health, nutrition and shared learning for the community, and protection and restoration for the forest. The demonstration of monitoring efforts and positive results may lead to better management, and wider acceptance of CF in Northern Thailand, and the granting of land tenure and resource rights, providing long-term stability and a positive outlook for the forest and its people. IV. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


[12] [13]


E. Ostrom, “Reformulating the commons,” in Ambiente & Sociedade, 2002. K. Roberts, “Evaluating Community Forestry in Huai Lu Luang, Thailand,” 2011, pp. 68-82, unpublished. D. Chudarsi, “Land reform: first community deeds in October,” Bangkok Post, 2010. Retrieved from O. Puginier, “Can participatory land use planning at community level in highlands in northern Thailand use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a communication tool?,” International Workshop Participatory Technology Development and Local Knowledge for Sustainable Land Use in Southeast Asia, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2001. Plant with Purpose, “2011 Impact Evaluation: Thailand UDHP,” San Diego, California, 2011. E. Ostrom and H. Nagendra, “Tenure alone is not sufficient: monitoring is essential,” in Environmental Economics and Policy Studies, vol 8, 2007, pp. 175-199. Verbesselt J., Hyndman R., Zeileis A., Culvenor D. Phenological change detection while accounting for abrupt and gradual trends in satellite image time series (2010) Remote Sensing of Environment, 114 (12), pp. 2970-2980.

The authors thank PWP and UHDP for providing resources and staff support, and TestForward Solutions for providing technical support for this effort. ArcGIS software was provided through the support of a Conservation Grant from ESRI and the generous support of Weyerhaeuser Corporation. The authors thank David Maxey and Julio Rojas of Weyerhaeuser for providing GIS tools and training to enhance PWP’s technical capacity. They thank Haui Lu Luang village leaders for their contributions and guidance to this project. The authors express their thanks to the Royal Forestry Department of Thailand for providing technical support, aerial photos, and a framework for the community planning process. V.



[3] [4] [5]



G. Van der Werf, D. Morton, R. Defries, J. Olivier, P. Kasibhatla, R. Jackons, G. Collatz, and J. Randerson, “CO2 emissions from forest loss,” in Nature Geoscience vol 2, 2009, pp. 737-738. G. Bala, K. Caldeira, et al., Combined climate and carbon-cycle effects of large-scale deforestation. PNAS, vol 104, issue 16, 2007, pp.65550-65551. Food and Agricultural Organization, State of the world’s forests. Rome, Italy, 2007, pp. 144. R. Buergin, “‘Hill tribes’ and forests: minority policies and resource conflicts in Thailand,” SEFUT Working Paper No. 7, 2000, pp. 10. N.A. Badenoch, “Social networks in natural resource governance in a multi-ethnic watershed of northern Thailand,” Doctoral Thesis, Kyoto University, 2006, unpublished. J. Sato, “People in between: conversion and conservation of forest lands in Thailand,” in Development and Change, vol 31, issue 1, 2000, pp. 164-165. A. Larson, D. Barry, G.R. Dahal, and C.J. Pierce Colger, Eds, Forests for people: community rights and forest tenure reform. London: Earthscan, 2010, pp. 12-13.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful