A Model Forest is a creation of many hands. It brings together a diversity of people with interests, expertise and knowledge which, when connected with others, creates a synergy that allows projects and processes to move forward. Model Forests have been creating impactful change for more than 20 years.
Often, leaders grow out of the Model Forest experience. In fact, leadership in a Model Forest does not emerge from a place of privileged position. Model Forest people are the forest company executives, government officials, academics and the indigenous and community members who have made outstanding contributions to improving our forests and the lives of the people who depend on them. Model Forest leaders 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.
First, we travel to the Model Forest of Newfoundland and Labrador for an interview with Muhammad Nazir, the Past-Chair of the Model Forest and Sean Dolter, the past General Manager. Both talk passionately about the Model Forest concept and what it brings to sustainable landscape management.
IMFNS: Hi to you both. Thank you for talking the time to talk to us today about your Model Forest experiences. To start, could you each introduce yourselves?
My name is Muhammad Nazir. People call me Mo Nazir and currently I am the Past-Chair of the Model Forest of Newfoundland and Labrador but my involvement has been from the very inception of the Model Forest concept.
I’m Sean Dolter and I’ve been involved in the Model Forest since 1993, originally as a representative of one of the Model Forest partners. In 1997 I was successful in gaining a position of senior planner with the Model Forest and since 2007, I’ve been the general manager.
IMFNS: What do you feel are some of the key lessons your Model Forest has learned since its inception?
SD: One of the key lessons is the ability to bring traditionally adverse departments or industry representatives within the forest sector together. The Model Forest has had a tremendous role at being that neutral advocate or neutral, honest broker that can bring organizations together in a platform in which they can start discussing common values, and even conflicting values, and develop mechanisms and strategies to overcome those conflicts.
MN: The Model Forest always looked at every issue as if it was a new thing. Is it an issue? Is it a problem? So what are the ways of solving it? What disciplines need to come together? What resources need to assign? What type of skills do we need to solve it? What communication needs do we have?
SD: That’s one of the features of the program that’s withstood time. To this day, we’re actually called upon to help alleviate issues around forest management. It could be related to the high moose population in Gros Morne National Park and what to do about that situation, but also how to take that situation and obtain public opinion on it. Other areas include conducting public attitude surveys, negotiating between communities and industry, and bringing difficult issues to a forum where they can be discussed. All these things have been major challenges, but Model Forest has helped develop the roadmap to develop solutions to those issues.
MN: Whenever groups run into a forest-based problem, the Model Forest usually comes to their mind. The Model Forest can look at it from outside the box; take a fresh look on the issue and be unbiased. They will bring the players together to discuss the issue and develop solutions to overcoming the conflict.
IMFNS: What advice would you give to a new Model Forest that’s just getting started now?
MN: Looking at our experience, my advice would be for people to keep their minds open. If they run into an issue, don’t walk away from it. There’s always a solution and for a new Model Forest, the first thing will be to allow time for the partners to get used to each other because you need to develop a level of comfort and respect with each other. Unless you achieve that level of confidence and respect for each partner, then you will not be able to function as a cohesive program or a cohesive Model Forest.
SD: For me, I think it would not be advice, but questions. Why would you want to be a part of the Model Forest network? Do you understand what we are? Do you understand what our impact is on an international level is? Do you understand that we bridge the differences and diversities of cultural influences, whether it be political, social or economic? Are you willing to live by the fabric of what we consider the principles and attributes of being a Model Forest? The questions are first. After that, one of the recommendations is start with the people and start with the issues. Don’t tell people what they should be, but ask them what they want to be.
IMFNS: What’s your fondest memory of being involved in Model Forest?
SD: My fondest memories are being able to sit down and actually connect with people and their issues. We debate, we argue in a good sense, but we also share a lot of really good ideas.
MN: My biggest pride and memory was seeing the people who were working in the Model Forest, especially the people who reported to me, developing the concept, buying into the ideas, growing into their professions and shining in those professions.
SD: The other fond memory is seeing something work and seeing the realization of something pass through others, whether it be a community member, a politician, a NGO or environmental group and they say, “Good job. You guys did a really good job. We would never be able to do this without you.”
IMFNS: Is there anything else you would like to add about your thoughts on Model Forests or the international network?
MN: I think it is a beautiful concept; the Model Forest itself. Not only the Canadian Network but also the International Model Forest Network. Canada needs to be congratulated for the leadership it has shown. Model Forests are a setting where the partners can come together. It is a model which allows people to think outside the box whether it is in Canada, Newfoundland or in any one of the countries where there is a Model Forest. It may take different forms but the basic ingredients of that model will be valid for a long time to come. Individuals have their way of doing things and they are usually boxed into those whether politically, administratively or in other ways. The Model Forest frees you from those boundaries and that is the beauty of it.
For more information on Model Forests and the International Model Forest Network, visit imfn.net