An interview with Anna-Maria Fjellström, President, Vilhelmina Model Forest, Sweden

Model Forest leaders are the forest company executives, government officials, academics and indigenous and community members who have made outstanding contributions to improving our forests and the lives of the people who depend on them. They champion local forest issues, help raise awareness of sustainability and work to support local communities, rural livelihoods and the environment.

In this occasional series, we highlight leaders who are or have been involved in the creation and operations of Model Forests around the world. All offer advice and key lessons learned from their Model Forest experiences.

Today, we catch up with Anna Maria Fjellström, President of the Vilhelmina Model Forest in Sweden.

IMFNS: Hi Anna Maria, thank you for speaking with us today. To start off, can you introduce yourself?

Anna Maria Fjellström: My name is Anna-Maria Fjellström and I'm from the Vilhelmina municipality in Sweden. I was introduced to the Model Forest concept when I went to the Prince Albert Model Forest in Canada. I was a group leader in a youth exchange program. Ever since then, I have been involved in Vilhelmina Model Forest projects.

IMFNS: Why do you feel the Model Forest is of value to you and the community?

AMF: I'm Sami and from a Sami community. I’m also a member of Vilhelmina North Reindeer herding community. The situation for reindeer herders in the area has changed over the years in the area where I live. There’s been increased competition for the land by other land users – like mining, forestry, etc. We need a platform to meet other stakeholders and land users so that we may engage in constructive dialogue over shared land use.

For us, sustainable use of the land is important for the way of living with the reindeer. The Model Forest approach motivates me because it’s a good way to have a landscape perspective on a big area.

IMFNS: Could you give an example of positive change that you and your community have experienced as a direct result of the Model Forest?

AMF: The idea that Model Forests bring people together is really important for us as indigenous people and to the Sami community. It also provides an opportunity to learn how other countries and other people have solved different problems.

As well, we use a large area for grazing the reindeer throughout the year. Now we have new reindeer husbandry planning tools – with GIS, with mapping – to share information, both inside the community and to other land users and that’s a good way to use in connection with other people. 

IMFNS: You have maintained a connection with the Prince Albert Model Forest, how has that been beneficial for you?

AMF: It feels like we have learned a lot about how they handle indigenous questions. One of the challenges for the future for us in the reindeer herding is climate change.  Since the reindeer are sensitive to changes in temperature – snow, wind… One of the things we had done is to visit other indigenous groups in the Prince Albert Model Forest. We’ve worked together on important projects concerning climate change and how it affects the people living in traditional areas. I think we have a lot of common interests and if we share experiences, but also look to the future together, I think we can continue to have interesting discussions and develop interesting projects together.

IMFN: Based on your experience so far with Model Forest, what advice would you give others about establishing a Model Forest?

AMS: If you have the chance, go out networking with other Model Forests to set what fits for you. Every Model Forest seems to be different, but we share common interests. Networking is the best way to learn about what has worked or didn’t work for other Model Forests. It helps shape your own decision making.

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