Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Model Forest?

A Model Forest is both a geographic area and an approach to the sustainable management of landscapes and natural resources.

Geographically, a Model Forest must encompass a landbase large enough to represent all of the forest's uses and values. They are a fully working landscape of forests, farms, protected areas, rivers and towns.

The approach is based on flexible landscape and ecosystem management that combines the social, environmental and economic needs of local communities with the long-term sustainability of large landscapes. The approach links a comprehensive mix of stakeholders, natural resource users and land use sectors within a given landscape and helps create a common vision of sustainability and constructive dialogue involving all stakeholders. Those involved define what sustainability means in their own context, identify a common vision and set of goals, devise a governance structure and strategic plan, then work collaboratively to achieve the goals set out in that plan. In turn, the process nurtures a depth of trust and transparency and increases the willingness to implement innovative solutions.


International Model Forest Network... so those forests are all similar?

The International Model Forest Network is composed of more than 60 Model Forests in over 30 countries. Sites are located in tropical, temperate and boreal forest regions. Various mixtures of private lands, communal lands, government-owned lands, and protected areas and parks can be found within their borders. Model Forests are also found in areas with high and low population densities.

The issues faced by Model Forests are diverse and include conservation of threatened or endangered species, agriculture and agroforestry, development of an economic base around forest and non-timber products, cross-cultural awareness among indigenous and non-indigenous communities, environmental education in schools and in the workforce, the application of new technologies such as GIS, GPS, biotechnology, and many others.

Although each Model Forest has a unique story to tell, they all share a common goal of the sustainable management of landscapes and natural resources. As well, each Model Forest adheres to the Principles and Attributes Framework for Model Forests which provides for a common foundation while being flexible enough to allow for local adoption to local contexts.


How are Model Forests selected?

There is no standard template for developing a Model Forest. The creativity of the stakeholders involved, as well as regional, cultural and other circumstances, will all influence the form and function of the Model Forest that is ultimately developed. While most processes have been led by a national government agency, in some areas a different stakeholder has taken a leadership role in developing a Model Forest.

On average, establishing a functioning Model Forest takes approximately two years. Once a decision is made to proceed with developing a Model Forest, a letter of intent must be sent to the IMFN Secretariat or, where there is a formal regional network, via the regional Model Forest office, stating your group’s intentions. The letter of intent is the basis on which the IMFN Secretariat and regional network will work with the stakeholders to develop a Model Forest.

In general, there are six basic steps that are typically followed in developing a Model Forest: 1) becoming familiar with the approach, 2) selecting an area, 3) identifying an initial stakeholder group, 4) holding workshops to discuss Model Forest development, 5) preparing a Model Forest strategic plan, 6) submitting an application and undergoing a site assessment.

Depending on how much technical support is available in a region, the roles and responsibilities involved in setting up the Model Forest and in reviewing applications for membership in the IMFN will be shared between the IMFN Secretariat and a regional and/or national Model Forest network office.

For more information, please go to our Model Forest Development Guide.


What is the governance structure of a Model Forest?

Model Forests are best understood as an approach based on broad stakeholder involvement. Therefore, one of the most important early steps in developing a Model Forest is to clearly define an appropriate governance structure so that the roles and responsibilities within the Model Forest are clear to everyone involved. An appropriate governance structure is one based on the standards and norms of organizations in the Model Forest’s country, and on social, cultural, economic and other values. By developing a governance structure, a Model Forest creates a procedural environment in which stakeholders interact and decisions are made.

As with any organization, a Model Forest’s governance structure contains two closely linked functions:

  1. Governance — The essential direction, resources and structure needed to ensure that the Model Forest meets its strategic directions
  2. Management — The program activities and support needed to accomplish the strategic directions

Governance functions are usually reserved for the board of directors, partnership committee or other governing body. These functions include identification of strategic directions, resource development, financial accountability and leadership development. Management functions are generally delegated to staff and include areas such as administration and program planning and implementation.

For more information, please see the Model Forest Development Guide and the Guide to Model Forest Governance.


What influence does the Model Forest have on management of the landbase?

The Model Forest does not exercise decision-making or management authority over the territory or natural resources. All such authorities and management responsibilities remain with existing tenure holders, land owners, and land and resource managers. However, the Model Forest influences resource use in three main ways:

  1. Because the Model Forest stakeholder group includes all key resource users (government, industry, private owners, and others, for example), they are participants in defining the Model Forest, its goals, and its administration.
  2. The Model Forest undertakes projects, research, and other activities on the landbase in collaboration and agreement with the major tenure holders. Therefore, the tenure holders are significant beneficiaries of Model Forest work.
  3. The Model Forest's activity is relevant at a national policy level. Its activities and experiments point the way to applications in sustainable management within and beyond the Model Forest borders. Its influence can be considered then as being indirect, and long-term.


Does the IMFN Secretariat provide financial support to Model Forests?

The IMFN Secretariat is not a grant-making institution and does not typically provide direct financial support to Model Forests. If requested to do so, the IMFN Secretariat will work with Model Forests to seek funds for project activities, however, it does so in a supportive rather than lead role. On occasion, the IMFN Secretariat has acted as an executing agent on behalf of a grant-making agency. As the Secretariat does not engage a large permanent staff its capacity to act as a delivery agent is limited. All such arrangements are therefore considered on a case-by-case basis.


How much money is needed to establish and operate a Model Forest?

The cost of establishing and operating a Model Forest is highly variable. It depends on the existing physical, technical, and information infrastructure of a given region (the starting conditions), as well as on the ambitiousness of the Model Forest strategic plan (its objectives and goals). If, for example, the Model Forest territory has a detailed database on resource and socio-economic conditions that can be made available to the partnership there will be considerable cost and time savings.

Some costs will be recurring, such as administration, participation in annual or other IMFN forums or meetings, information management and updating, and long-term projects (for example, monitoring indicators of sustainability over the long-term).

Leveraging resources for the Model Forest is important. The benefit of broad-based partnerships is not simply acknowledging and accommodating the rights of others to work through difficult problems. Model Forest partnerships have demonstrated very convincingly that these partnerships also bring new resources, such as ideas, facilities, data sets, professional services, access to policymakers and community leaders, and cash—resources that were not previously in place or not directed toward addressing the challenges associated with the sustainable management of the landscape and natural resources.


What role (if any) does the Model Forest play in resolving conflict over resource management?

The Model Forest approach began at the height of a spirited and emotional debate over forest resource use and questions of sustainability. Today, there continue to be strong opinions across the management spectrum, and a need to focus these opinions to constructive ends. A positive by-product of the Model Forest has been its role in creating a respected forum and process to deal with conflict over resource use where no functional forum or process existed before. The Model Forest approach has shown itself valuable in providing neutral settings in which traditional antagonists can engage in constructive debate.


What is the Model Forest relationship to international conventions and agreements?

The relevance of what Model Forests are doing to national and international policy objectives is striking. In fact, the work being done by Model Forests is directly related to several key conventions and agreements, including:

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
  • Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD)
  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) 
  • National Forest Programs (NFP)


What are the benefits of participating in the IMFN?

Participating in the IMFN offers a chance to gain access to talents and knowledge that will help managers and users in policy formulation and implementation at a time when many agencies are understaffed and under-funded. In joining the IMFN, countries, agencies and individual stakeholders do the following:

  • Foster collaborative stewardship among countries so that science and technology are made available and ideas and experiences are shared
  • Provide leadership in promoting sustainable forest values
  • Take part in a transparent process that allows others to freely obtain real-world experience from their Model Forest initiatives
  • Test national forest program strategies and other innovative approaches to the sustainable management of forest-based landscapes and natural resources, which can then be applied outside Model Forest boundaries
  • Challenge existing approaches and change existing institutions, policies and legislation

Promote and strengthen community capacity building and consensus building