So much more than trees!
Conference Presentation by the IMFN - Yale, June 1998
When one hears the term - "model forests" - visions of pristine forests and preserved areas may come to mind, and forests that are far from the intrusion of people.
Model forests are about the health and productivity of forests but it goes beyond the trees and the forests -- model forests are about people. They are about how people use and interact with the forests and related resources such as soil, water and wildlife. They are about communities that depend on the forests and the land base for their livelihood and well being. They are about forests in a defined area where the forests may be under multiple use for economic benefits both for traditional wood products and non wood products. Model forests may include preserved areas such as parks or conservation areas and, as well, lands that are not forested and being used for other production purposes such as agriculture.
Model forests are also about community based partnerships and about learning to make decisions together. The partnerships are as broad based as possible and include, among others, local industries, environmental groups, community associations, indigenous peoples, landowners, and governments. The partnership shares a common vision of sustainable development and of sustainable forest management.
A model forest is a process in which the partnerships collectively make decisions about the use of forests and the related resources on the landbase for all their values. Model forests are large scale experiments covering a land base of significant size such as a watershed area.
Model forests are also about networking. The model forest approach enables the groups that form the partnership to share their knowledge, understand better the sometimes conflicting practices used to manage the multiple forest values. They experiment and collectively find new approaches to meet their needs in the context of sustainable development, and to effect technology transfer. Networking occurs at all levels including within the model forest itself, regionally and nationally within a given country, and globally.
Networking is an essential part of the model forest picture. The interaction between the Network and the individual model forests provides for sharing knowledge and experience and gives meaning, in the context of sustainable forest management, to the phrase "think globally, act locally". The IMFN is the pipeline linking practioners in model forests with each other internationally, with relevant international bodies, and with policy discussion at the global level. An example of networking activities was the IMFN Workshop in Oregon, hosted by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and sponsored by the IMFN Secretariat. This was an opportunity for 72 participants from 7 countries and NGOs to exchange experiences in partnership building and activities within there model forests and respective countries.
The model forest concept is a simple one but complex in the practical terms relating to how partnerships are formed, how they learn to work together and how trust is developed. The players in the partnership are diverse as are the expectation and demands placed on the forests and related resources within the model forest area. These demands and expectations are driven from social, environmental and economic viewpoints and they are often in conflict. The challenge is therefore to bring balance into these competing demands under the objective of sustainable forest management and to understand the consequences and trade-offs of actions and activities so that informed decisions can be made.
The International Model Forest Network is built upon the firm belief that forests can be managed in a sustainable way to enhance the economic, environmental and social well-being of current and future generations.
No two model forests are the same
There is no standard template for model forests as they are all unique. The attributes of partnership and sharing through networking are common to model forests, however, the activities and approaches taken to meeting the objectives of sustainable forest management must incorporate the variations and special circumstances found in the local environment due to differences in the social, cultural, economic and political setting. All model forests in the IMFN, however, cover the same range of activities:
- economic diversification
Model forests in Mexico provide an example of the diversity and range of activities. The process began in Mexico in 1993 with two model forests, the Chihuahua and Calakmul Model Forests. A third, the Monarch Butterfly Model Forest, was created in 1997. Each of these model forests is unique and is a story of how people can work together to recognize and enhance the economic, social, and environmental values of the forest. Each forest also covers a range of activities and the following examples highlight only a small portion of the activities currently under way in each model forest in Mexico:
Calakmul Model Forest, Campeche State, Mexico
Education efforts to raise the awareness of the local population about the wise management of forest resources is but one important activity in the Calakmul Model Forest. In the model forest area covering 380,000 hectares, education is important to the approximate 16,000 inhabitants, 50% of which are under the age of 15 years. Education efforts are directed to the young and to women, as these two groups were often marginalised in the region.
Environmental education programs constitute a means to integrate local populations in the efforts towards sustainable management of resources in this region; such programs will be key in inducing a shift in attitude and behaviour toward the use of the natural resource base. A wide range of tools are used and include:
- workshops and training courses (women's groups, school teachers, children, students etc.)
- community meetings to exchange information and experience on the use of forest plants and wild game as food sources,
- video presentations to attract attention and lead public discussion on key environmental issues such as the importance of forests in terms of the food chain, its ecology, fauna, flora, and importance to family's needs and values.
Chihuahua Model Forest, Chihuahua State, Mexico
Knowledge about the state, extent and condition of the forests is essential to make informed decisions on the management of resources. Without such information decisions on the use or conservation of natural resources relative to economic, environmental and social objectives will occur in a vacuum and without knowledge of the positive or negative results of such decisions. Hence research work into the development of tools that provide base information such as resource inventories is important if the partners are to make informed decisions which would enable them to develop and elect the best strategies for the development of the resources.
For the Chihuahua Model Forest, research work has gone into developing the Geographic Information System (GIS) which has been used in the mapping and quantification of forests in the model forest area which covers 110, 100 hectares. This computerized tool will allow examination of different management and development scenarios in an integrated approach taking into account social, economic and environmental dimensions and impacts. The GIS program in Chihuahua is focussing on developing such a database with data sets on thematic maps on climatic data, infrastructure/roads, human settlements, tourism activities, soil and vegetation, forest productivity, wildlife and its habitat, as well as specific tree species distribution.
Monarch Butterfly Model Forest, Mexico and Michoacan States (BMMM), Mexico
Model forests have an important role in addressing local needs such as food security and the provision of benefits from economic diversification. Traditionally the forest has been managed mostly for its timber, or cut to clear land for agricultural and farming purposes. Economic diversification addresses the potential benefits that can be derived from sources other than the traditional use of forests for timber or conversion to agricultural land.
The BMMM has embarked on an economic diversification program so as to reduce the pressure its 900,000 inhabitants exercise on the forest resources. This program is designed to provide alternative income-generating options to the local communities, such as through tourism.
From October to March every year, millions of monarch butterflies find refuge in the forests in the mountains of the eastern part of the state of Michoacan and the western part of the state of Mexico. As a result of this spectacular migration, and other attractions in the region, tourism has become of increasing importance in recent years for many of the 22 municipalities within the 795,000 hectares in this model forest. The objective in this activity is to organize communities, other organizations and institutions to improve the facilities for tourism and overall management so as to procure additional income to local communities while preserving the forest habitat of the Monarch Butterfly.
Why an international model forest network secretariat?
The IMFN Secretariat was established in IDRC in 1995 with the support of IDRC and its Canadian partners: the Canadian International Development Agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Canadian Forest Service of Natural Resources Canada. Its mandate is to work with those countries that are active in the IMFN (Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, United States) and assist those countries interested in experimenting with model forests and in joining the network.
The IMFNS Secretariat, therefore, in addition to assisting countries to develop model forests has had an important role in encouraging and coordinating networking internationally. The Secretariat serves as a channel for planning and organizing annual forums, workshops, seminars, consultations and discussions.
Progress to date
The progress over the last three years has been significant and is demonstrated by the addition of a third model forest in Mexico, an 11th model forest in Canada, one in Chile and two in Japan. Other countries well advanced, or currently exploring options to joining the Network include: Argentina, Australia, China, Indonesia, Poland, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and countries within the Southern African Development Community such as Malawi and South Africa.
The Way Ahead
In late 1997, the Canadian partners supporting the IMFN assessed that their experience with the IMFN had been very positive in Canada and internationally. It indicated to members of the IMFN, and other countries that were developing their interests in model forests, it would continue its support for the IMFN and its Secretariat to March 2000. It stated, however, that Canada was at the stage where it was seeking partners to collectively chart the future of the IMFN and define a process to truly internationalize the IMFN. In an informal meeting of heads of forestry agencies held during the World Forestry Congress in Antalya, Turkey, agreement was reached amongst 12 countries on a process whereby they would work together to define country interests and expectations and discuss options on the possible ways and means of internationalizing the IMFN. This process is now underway and the challenge will be to determine networking needs at national and international levels, define organizational structures, governance and coordination for the IMFN and define obligations in support of the IMFN.