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Forest Heroes

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

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.

Rose Mukankomeje, UN Forest Hero from Rwanda.

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.

AFRICA | Paul Nzegha Mzeka

Born and raised in a forest community, Paul N. Mzeka has a deep attachment to forest and trees. He strongly believes this attachment influenced his preference for nature related school subjects throughout his school life, ending in his specialization as a geography teacher.

Paul Nzegha Mzeka, UN Forest Hero from Cameroon.

After teaching for 30 years, Mr. Mzeka retired from the Cameroon Public Service in 1990 and founded an organization called the North West Beefarmers" Association (NOWEBA) which promoted sustainable bee farming as a means of raising awareness in biodiversity conservation in rural communities.

During this period, he was improving his own understanding of the issues at stake in biodiversity conservation by attending workshops and seminars on the environment. In 2000, he and his dedicated team decided to change the name of the organization from NOWEBA to ANCO, the Apiculture and Nature Conservation.

ANCO, in 2004 created a partnership with 3 other NGOs and embarked on conservation integrated with sustainable land management and rural poverty reduction. Their approach received support from the Cameroon Government through the RIGC Project, the Program for Sustainable Management of Natural Resources, South West Region and from several international organizations including UNDP (GEF/SGP), HELVETAS the Swiss Development Organization, IUCN Netherlands, the Royal Botanic Gardens UK, the American Global Releaf etc.

Mr. Mzeka and his dedicated team have helped 30 communities to protect their watersheds and conserve 4 community forests including reforesting degraded portions. In the process, a total of 685,000 trees have been planted, the target being to reach a million trees before 2013.

ASIA & THE PACIFIC | Preecha Siri

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.

Preecha Siri, UN Forest Hero from Thailand.

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.

ASIA & THE PACIFIC | Shigeatsu Hatakeyama

Shigeatsu Hatakeyama is a fisherman turned environmentalist who has cultivated his oyster business by planting trees in the forest surrounding Kesennuma Bay in Miyagi, an area of Japan devastated by the March 2011 tsunami. He is known as "Grandpa Oyster," after spending more than twenty years developing the forest environment that keeps the Okawa River clean and his oysters healthy.

Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, UN Forest Hero from Japan.

Mr. Hatakeyama entered his family"s oyster raising business in the 1960s during an outbreak of red tide plankton. The event caused the water to become clouded, which dyed the oyster meat red and made it unsuitable for consumption.The tide would turn during a trip to France in 1984. As he travelled upriver from the tidelands of the Loire river estuary where healthy oysters were raised, Mr. Hatakeyama observed a gigantic deciduous broadleaf forest in the upper reaches.It was then that he realized the positive influence forests have on the ocean environment and biodiversity.

In 1989 he held the first "Mori wa Umi no Koibito" (Forests are Lovers of the Sea) Campaign. Gaining the cooperation of the mayors of the villages along the Okawa River, he and his colleagues planted broadleaf trees upstream to reduce pollutants flowing into the sea. The yearly afforestation activities he initiated have since gained momentum, leading to a regionwide proactive movement to preserve the environment, including water drainage regulation and promotion of farming practices with less agricultural chemicals.

In 2009, he established the NPO "Mori wa Umi no Koibito" to provide hands-on education for children, bringing them closer to the ocean and forests to experience nature"s work.

EUROPE | Hayrettin Karaca

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.

Hayrettin Karaca, UN Forest Hero from Turkey.

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.

EUROPE | Anatoly Lebedev

Anatoly Lebedev began his career in environmental journalism in the 1970s. In 1989 he led a successful media campaign against a construction project that threatened the territory of indigenous people and Siberian tigers in the Ussuri Forest.

Anatoly Lebedev, UN Forest Hero from Russia.

Mr. Lebedev"s work with environmental group, "Taiga," resulted in a national logging ban on cedar forests from the Supreme Soviet Council of the USSR. Soon after, he was elected Deputy Chairman of the Primorskiy Krai regional parliament where he oversaw a commission on environmental protection and resource use. In that capacity, he passed regional legislation on forest management, wildlife management, indigenous rights and protected territories, and helped keep national parks from destruction by illegal logging.

In 2000, Mr. Lebedev was awarded Honorable Environmentalist of Russia for his efforts in promoting indigenous rights, biodiversity preservation and his support of local environmental journalists through the "Bureau of Regional Outreach Campaigns" (BROC). He also produced the first regional environmental TV show, "Preserved," and the quarterly magazine "Ecology and Business," which has been a key tool for environmental education and advocacy over RFE Siberia.

Mr. Lebedev remains highly active in local forest communities, analyzing models and impacts of illegal logging and timber trade, which rose in the RFE during the mid 1990s. He has written analytical reports on the Asian timber marketing collaboration with international organizations such as, IUCN, WWF and U.S. based NGOs.

To date he is consulted by journalists and international organizations on issues concerning the environment, forestry, illegal logging, conservation and sustainable communities in Asian Russia.

LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN | Almir Narayamoga Surui

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 Narayamoga Surui, UN Forest Hero from Brazil.

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.


Paulo Adario has acted as a guardian of the Amazon for the past 15 years. Leading a field team focused on research and investigation, his work exposed the timber industry as the first in a number of drivers of destruction in the Amazon rainforest.

Paulo Adario, UN Forest Hero from Brazil.

In 2001, he led a field team into the Amazon to assist the Deni tribe to demarcate and protect their own land, resulting in the official protection of 1,6 million hectares of pristine forest. Mr. Adario also introduced new concepts, such as the "Green Wall" to describe the network of protected areas necessary to stop the northern encroachment of industrial development, and "Zero Deforestation" - a set of political, social and economic initiatives aimed at eliminating deforestation while ensuring the improvement of living conditions for people living in and from the forests.

Following a campaign on illegal logging, which led to a moratorium in 2003 on the international trade in Mahogany, the impacts of his work attracted death threats from forest criminals across the Amazon. Mr. Adario persisted and went on to create bilateral agreements with international and industrial companies to halt the illegal destruction of the forests for soya crops and cattle ranching. The resulting Soya Moratorium and cattle industry agreements are still in place today.

Mr. Adario has pioneered a campaign to protect the Amazon from boardroom meetings with industry leaders to field expeditions deep into the Amazon, to the coordination of international public campaigns to expose forest destroyers and demand sustainable solutions.

Mr. Adario opened Greenpeace"s office in the Amazon to fight deforestation and force sustainable solutions. He currently still leads the office as the Campaign Director.


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.

Ariel Lugo, UN Forest Hero from Puerto Rico.

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.

NORTH AMERICA | Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva

In 2007, as 11 year olds, Madison and Rhiannon earned their Girl Scout Bronze Award by raising awareness about the endangered orangutan and their rapid diminishing rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia. After learning that the Girl Scout Cookies they sold for so many years contained palm oil, an ingredient that results in rainforest destruction and human rights abuses, the two girls launched a variety of campaigns in order to convince the Girl Scout organization to remove this ingredient from their cookies. They worked to educate consumers about the impacts of palm oil and motivate them to take action by demanding deforestation free products.

Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, UN Forest Heroes from the United States.

In the fall of 2011, Girl Scouts USA announced their new palm oil policy, the first concrete action they"ve taken on this issue. Now juniors in high school, Madison and Rhiannon have finally gained the opportunity to enter a dialogue with the Girl Scout organization and are committed to ensuring that Girl Scout Cookies are produced in an environmentally-friendly and socially-responsible way. They are also expanding their campaign to persuade Kelloggs, a baker of Girl Scout cookies, and Cargill, a major player in the palm oil market, to adopt sustainable policies of their own.

After a recent trip to Colombia to learn about the human rights abuses occurring as a result of palm oil corporations, the girls have made it their mission to not only advocate for the rainforests that are destroyed for palm oil, but for the inhabitants of these tropic forests whose livelihoods rely on this invaluable resource. As youth, Madison and Rhiannon have fought to make their voices heard and show other youth the tremendous power they have to make a difference. It is their belief that with courage, passion, and perseverance, any person, regardless of their age, can create change within their local and international communities.

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