Model Forest Impacts on Policy

In its formative years, a Model Forest site establishes a partnership, agrees on processes for conducting its affairs, and consults with stakeholders to plan well and strategically for the future. It often has been noted that the process of a Model Forest is at least as important – if not more – as the goal. The start-up phase focusses on creating this process, which calls for considerable time and patience. But what of those Model Forests that have been operating for many years such as the Canadian sites (since 1993) and international sites (Russian and Mexico, since 1994, Chile, since 1997)?  Aside from succeeding to create a process for local stakeholder interaction, these "older" sites have also begun to have an impact on the policy level that has been planned for and hoped for.  Below are a few snapshots of these impacts. 

In Russia, the Model Forest has confirmed the value of participatory processes and improving the economy. The Gassinski Model Forest Association (GMFA) has been highly successful in creating a partnership of decision-making bodies and resource users who view the Model Forest forum as a superior form of professional interaction that improves understanding of policies as well as policy-making processes. The Model Forest partnership approach is used in other aspects of the territorial government's work as a method to fully air views and options supporting improved decision making for resource issues.  The GMFA partnership also played the leadership role in devising, advocating and assisting in developing and implementing a sustainable economic development strategy for the Model Forest area and the jurisdiction surrounding it. 

In Mexico, the country's third site, the Monarch Butterfly Model Forest, was in fact the result of a policy decision. Given that the Monarch butterfly habitat was increasingly at risk, Mexico opted to create a Model Forest in the area believing an effective conservation policy would result that also takes into account the social and economic needs of the communities. Development plans for the region now include a much higher commitment to collaborating and consulting with community groups.

Like Mexico, Chile is establishing a new site in an area with some challenging conditions. This is a result of the successful reception of the participatory processes of the Model Forest concept in the country's first site. Mostly indigenous people inhabit the proposed Lonquimay Model Forest. The very successful experience of the Chiloé Model Forest to build a broad working partnership and address conflicts over natural and forest resource use has been an inspiration. 

In Canada, an increasing body of evidence shows that local-level experiments are influencing several levels of policy making in at least four areas: 

1)  adopting participatory processes to resource management; 

2)  developing, promoting, and demonstrating best practices; 

3)  developing reliable monitoring and reporting processes on sustainable forest management (SFM) that can be applied broadly; and 

4)  education and training. 

Examples of these include the Manitoba Model Forest's expertise in helping the provincial government, resource developers, and aboriginal groups devise an acceptable consultative process for elaborating options to develop  resources in an area containing millions of hectares of undeveloped forest land. In western Newfoundland, a handbook on public participation in developing local-level indicators was created to be used in the whole province.   It has since been distributed to all provincial forest unit managers and is used as a planning tool. Lake Abitibi Model Forest has developed an improved harvest method for black spruce that has now been adopted by its industrial partner and has been recognized as a silvicultural system by the Ontario provincial government. The Fundy Model Forest has worked with its industrial partner to develop a set of Best Management Practices that are now company policy. Each Canadian Model Forest has been developing sets of local-level indicators and together they have initiated a series of national workshops on them. As well, each Model Forest has greatly increased knowledge of SFM and the quality of discussion around it.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Each deserves a fuller treatment than can be covered in a newsletter. The international Network now has 26 established or establishing sites. With time and an increasingly rich body of experience and expertise, the Network will have even more opportunity to show how SFM can become an operational reality, and how Model Forests can be an invaluable asset to policy makers, bridging the gap between SFM policy and practice.