The Model Forest approach was first developed and implemented by the Government of Canada in the early 1990s in 10 sites across the country. It was a response to a period of intense conflict in Canada’s forest sector at a time when environmentalists, governments, indigenous peoples, communities and forest workers were struggling over forest resources and how to manage them sustainably. The idea behind the Model Forest concept was to move away from valuing forests for timber alone towards a vision where social, environmental, economic and cultural benefits and trade-offs would be considered equally.
From the beginning, Model Forests promoted the idea of forming partnerships under a neutral forum where a range of values and interests could be represented, and where partners could experiment with new ideas under a common goal of sustainable development. Each site was intended to be a dynamic “model” from which others could learn, and, together, advance their sustainability goals in forests and the larger landscapes that surround them.
The approach showed immediate promise as people came together to find common solutions to the issues they faced, such as logging practices, biodiversity conservation and economic stability.
Bolstered by the success, the Government of Canada announced the development of an International Model Forest Network at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, with a goal to scale up the lessons learned from Model Forests in Canada and provide a platform to share its experiences with international partners.
The IMFN Secretariat was officially established in 1995, and today continues to be hosted by the Government of Canada at Natural Resources Canada – Canadian Forest Service in Ottawa, Canada.