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2012- 2013 Forest Heroes Award Winners

All over the world people are working in quiet and heroic ways to sustain, protect and manage our forests. The Forest Hero Award celebrates these "unsung" heroes who inspire positive change for forests.

Winners by region

  • AFRICA | Rose Mukankomeje, Rwanda
  • ASIA & THE PACIFIC | Preecha Siri, Thailand
  • EUROPE| Hayrettin Karaca, Turkey
  • LATIN AMERICA & THE CARRIBEAN | Almir Narayamoga Surui, Brazil
  • NORTH AMERICA | Ariel Lugo, USA

Honourable mentions

  • Ian Dickenson, Australia
  • James Ligare, Kenya
  • Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Mexico

AFRICA | Rose Mukankomeje, Rwanda

Dr. Rose Mukankomeje has devoted her life to the protection and restoration of Rwandan forests. As her nation emerged from crisis, and in the face of great personal adversity, Rose took the initiative to bring Rwandans together to protect their natural resources from over exploitation and environmental degradation.

One of her most successful initiatives is public awareness for environmental management, through Umuganda -- community work done once a month. It is a unique home grown solution which ensures that the growth of forests in Rwanda supports livelihoods and benefits the rural poor.

Rose also raised attention for the need to protect critical ecosystems like wetlands by encouraging farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural techniques. Her work helped to improve the livelihoods of people without compromising Rwanda's rare and vulnerable ecosystems.

As a lasting legacy of Rose's achievements in the field of forestry, Rwanda's National Forest Policy won the 2011 Future Policy Award. Through border-to-border restoration programmes, this policy aims to heal and restore natural resources, creating the basis for a healthy and resilient society of the future.

Rose is a biologist by training and in 1992 received her PhD in the Sciences. She is currently the Director General of the Rwandan Environment Management Authority (REMA). She has also served as Member of Parliament (1995-2001); Director General, Science, Technology & Research, Ministry of Education (2002-03); Vice Chairperson, Centre for Innovation & Technology Transfer; and Vice President, Kigali Institute of Education.

ASIA & THE PACIFIC | Preecha Siri, Thailand

Mr. Preecha Siri is a community leader with a vision for forest management. He is a source of inspiration for his community in revitalizing sustainable forest management systems. He has dedicated his life to demonstrating his belief that protecting nature is protecting a way of life.

He believes that rights with responsibilities are inseparable when it comes to protecting and promoting sustainable resource management systems and self-sufficient traditional livelihood practices.

With his guidance, his community has successfully adopted an integrated system of wet terrace fields, rotational farming, beekeeping, native tea and bamboo farming along with forest conservation demonstrating a successful model of ecosystem management. These innovative income generation plans have helped to create community funds and build community resilience. Today, the community manages 3,120 hectares of forests where 14 streams originate and 567.52 hectares of agricultural land.

His village is now a learning center for the global community on sustainable lifestyle, attracting growing numbers of researchers and visitors every year. A recent milestone studies published is Climate Change, Trees and Livelihood: A Case Study on the Carbon Footprint of a Karen Community in Northern Thailand.

Both Preecha and his community have received distinguished awards. He received the Friendship Award (2009) from the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Community Servant Award (2010) from the Network of Community Organizations. Preecha was born in 1954 and is a Karen farmer. He did not receive formal education but gained his wisdom and knowledge from observation and interaction with the forest.

EUROPE| Hayrettin Karaca, Turkey

Hayrettin Karaca, born in 1922, built a successful textile business. However, in the 1970s, as he traveled across Turkey he became very concerned about the environmental degradation that he saw, especially the soil erosion. Hayrettin realized he could not remain silent and began to document the situation and warn authorities and the public about the threats facing Turkey's natural environment.

In 1980, Hayrettin established an arboretum on his land in Yalova, which today holds over 14,000 species and subspecies of trees, and 3,800 herbaceous plants and perennials. The Karaca Arboretum has become the in situ breeding ground of endangered plant species endemic to Turkey and is open to the public.

In 1992, together with Nihat Gökyigit, Hayrettin founded the TEMA Foundation to raise public awareness of environmental problems -- specifically soil erosion, deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Today TEMA is one Turkey's leading environmental NGOs with over 460,000 volunteers across the country. TEMA has planted more than ten million seedlings and launched numerous public campaigns to influence the practices of government and business on sustainable rural development, reforestation, biodiversity conservation and sustainable land management.

Hayrettin, considered the 'grandfather' of the Turkish environmental movement, has received a number of awards for his work, including the UNEP 500 in 1992, the Eminent Services Award of the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1998 and the Right Livelihood Award in 2012.

LATIN AMERICA & THE CARRIBEAN | Almir Narayamoga Surui, Brazil

An environmentalist and political activist, Almir Narayamoga Surui caught the eye of tribal elders; at 17 he was elected chief, and is the first member of the Surui to attend college. For more than 20 years he has been fighting to save both his Paiter-Surui tribe and the Amazon rainforest.

Almir successfully lobbied the state government to build schools, wells and medical clinics for the Surui and other tribes in the rainforest preserves. He spearheaded the creation of a "50-year plan" to ensure the economic vitality of the Paiter-Surui. The plan encompasses large-scale conservation efforts, reforestation projects and activities that offer economic alternatives to exploiting the forest. Almir convinced the World Bank to re-structure a regional development program to better benefit local indigenous groups. Almir's efforts are credited with almost single-handedly bringing his tribe back from the brink of extinction.

Almir hopes to generate income for the tribe by selling forest carbon credits. To achieve this goal, he contacted Google Earth to teach the Surui how to use digital technology to monitor and map the forest.

His efforts to build partnerships between indigenous peoples and international actors for sustainable development have earned him accolades around the world. He received the 2008 Human Rights Prize from the International Society for Human Rights in Geneva. In 2011 Almir was named as one of the 100 most creative people in the world by Fast Company, the world's leading progressive media brand which focuses on innovation and leadership. Almir was born in 1974 in the state of Rondonia, in western Brazil.


Dr. Ariel Lugo has dedicated his life to the conservation of forests and the improvement of communities around the world.

Ariel is an active scientist! His talent for environmental research is paired with a unique ability to create new linkages between forests and diverse audiences. His most recent project helps to prevent violence and promote healthy childhood development by encouraging the participation of youth in planting seasonal organic products and native trees. Ariel believes in the use of a variety of tools to engage and inspire people to discover the scientific and artistic significance of forests. While Ariel has published over 470 scientific articles, he continues to explore new ways to turn forest policy into practice.

His thought leadership has earned him innumerable honors, including the Zayed International Prize for the Environment, Distinguished Service and Distinguished Scientist Award from USDA, an Honorary Doctorate from University of Puerto Rico and a Meritorious Executive Rank Award from President George W. Bush. He also contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Assessment that received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

Ariel is currently the Director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (1986-present). He has consulted with UNESCO and also served in the Executive Office of the President, Council on Environmental Quality (1978-79); as Project Leader, US Forest Service (1979-92); and Acting Deputy Chief, International Forestry in Washington D.C. (1995). Born in Puerto Rico, Ariel received his Master's Degree in Science (Biology) and a Ph.D. in Ecology.

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