A CUSO Cooperant’s Role in the Chiloé Model Forest

When Sylvain Legault applied to CUSO to serve as an international cooperant, he knew little about model forests. But after learning about the possibility of a posting in the Chiloé Model Forest in Chile, he soon became an avid surfer of the IMFN web site. And when CUSO offered him the post, he didn’t hesitate to accept.

Since November 2000, when he began his two-year term, the 31-year old graduate of l'Université du Québec à Montréal’s Master’s program in Environmental Sciences has quickly established himself as a valuable member of the Chiloé Model Forest team. Legault’s role is to help coordinate some special projects identified as priorities by the model forest partnership. They involve the development of an environmental education centre, planning for a locally relevant geographic information system (GIS), and defining a program for the development of local-level indicators (LLI) of sustainable forest management and development in Chiloé.

The environmental education centre is a good opportunity for Chiloé, says Legault. “The goal is to reach everyone in the area — students, campesinos (farmers), urban residents, and tourists — through different environmental educational programs or projects.” The Chiloé Model Forest considers environmental education a valuable means to help civil society better understand resource management issues and to improve decision making on the use and conservation of local resources.

“We are currently in the development phase: forming a Board of Directors and finding money to start our first big project: an interpretative centre, which will showcase the local forest ecosystem.” Legault says they hope to open the interpretative centre in March or April, 2002.

In addition, together with the general manager of the Chiloé Model Forest, Legault is helping to plan the development of a GIS system that will be used to support the management of natural resources in the model forest area. Part of his role involves acting as a facilitator for a Canadian consultant who traveled to the island in December 2001 to meet with local organizations and the model forest staff. The consultant’s purpose is to define their expectations and assess what’s needed to implement a GIS system that responds to local needs. It is hoped that the Chiloé Model Forest will receive support from CUSO and other Canadian and Chilean institutions to further advance the development of the GIS program.

Meanwhile, Legault and his colleagues are working with the model forest partner organizations to plan broad-based collaboration activities, which promote the development of local-level indicators of sustainable forest management and development for Chiloé. “The model forest can’t do it alone,” Legault stresses. A workshop is being planned for early spring 2002 where experts from the Chilean National Forests and Parks Service (CONAF), and Canadian practitioners will discuss LLI, describing their experiences to date. Following the workshop, they will collaborate with local organizations and the Chiloé Model Forest to draft a plan of action and a proposal for the development of LLI in Chiloé.

Summing up his first year on the job, Legault calls it a “very rich” experience. “I have learned professionally. I have learned lessons personally.” And when his term expires, given the chance, he would like to continue his association with model forests.