Forest health is under threat because of deforestation and degradation, which negatively impact biodiversity and provision of ecosystem services. Changes in climatic regimes appear to be modifying and shaping tropical vegetation structure, leading to changes in species composition and mortality rates. These threats have prompted initiatives for the active participation of rural peoples in monitoring forest health. Community forest monitoring programs are a way to engage rural people in actively contribute to scientific evidence generation about forest health. The assumption is that if rural people learn and understand why and how monitor forest health, they will then take steps to make a sustainable use of forest resources. We reflect on our experience with the program “Forest Health”, which focused on community capacity building to support participatory monitoring of forest health in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve (CMER) in the state of Acre, Brazil. Young adult leaders were trained through participatory workshops in using scientific instruments, which provided foundations for documenting vegetation characteristics, and in the establishment of permanent plots, forest inventory and information technologies. However, we faced three main challenges is aligning the goals of the program “Forest Health” with the priorities of rural communities: (1) understanding community political cultures and practices; (2) logistics to access communities in the CMER; and (3) managing expectations of community members. We pursued some strategies to adapt our project to the priorities of local communities and thereby improve the scale and quality of participation in our workshops, but there were broader structural challenges at play that were beyond the scope of our program. Despite the challenges and difficulties faced, it is important that programs of this kind keep existing, specially in inhabited forests of the southwestern Amazon. These forests have high density of bamboo culms and were subject to severe droughts in 2005 and 2010, factors that contribute to a high tree mortality and loss of carbon stock. Therefore, minimizing the anthropic pressure under these forests is important as they already suffer great environmental stress. Enhancing the environmental conscious of rural peoples is a way to contribute with forest health resilience at the southwestern part of the Amazon basin.
Amazon; capacity building; community; forests