This week Ecotrust Canada’s Daniel Arbour is in Burgos, Spain representing the Canadian Model Forest Network at two events of the International Model Forest Network. This is his day-by-day  report from the symposium and Global forum

2011 IMFN Global Forum

 

DAY 1 – March 22/2011

Welcome to the Symposium on Ecosystem and Landscape-level Approaches to Sustainability in Burgos, Spain, where 58 International Model Forest sites are getting together with leaders of FAO, UNFF, IUCN, and others to celebrate the UN International Year of Forests, and discuss how to contribute to the health and wealth of forests and people globally.

In 1992, following the Rio Summit, Canada encouraged the world to promote sustainable forest management practices by creating the concept of Model Forests, which is now supported in over 30 countries. Model Forest sites are large regions where broad partnership tables are formed around sustainable forest management. By intent, these voluntary tables allow local people, forest companies, governments, environmental and indigenous groups to collaborate on sustainable forest planning and management. Through the Model Forest Network, initiatives are organized locally, regionally, and globally, and much of the week will be spent on sharing some of our better ideas and successes.

As my plane lands in economically-shaken Spain, it is with anticipation that I wait for the bus to Burgos. As per the latest FAO report on the state of Global Forests, deforestation pressures, poverty, and global markets continue to put enormous pressures on forests and people, and the long attempt to stop treating forests as pure sources of timber and pulp is slow to gain full traction. Investment in forestry and forest communities is challenged through most of our Network’s regions and efforts to support forest revenue diversification and growth has stalled in many places following the global economic crisis. This has led to the erosion of the tax base for many communities and jurisdictions. In fact, as I discuss with a colleague while the bus moves North from Madrid, the crisis has by all accounts enhanced our habit of driving forest resources into the ground for lower returns, whereas many hoped the global shakedown might lead to the emergence of a new approach. With failures in Copenhagen to bring viable solutions to the forest sector, and reports of continued deforestation in the developing world, one remains hard-pressed to maintain optimism.

So the main question for me this week is: With so many sharing a clear vision of a conservation economy for global forests, can we successfully overcome seemingly deterministic cycles and trends? By the time I arrive at the local pub, hope comes back as I re-acquaint with colleagues from Africa, Asia, and South-America, and the Mediterranean – all with inspiring stories from their homeland and an infectious beliefs that forests and people can and will reconcile…

Burgos, Castilla y Leon, Spain. photo by Gisele Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht.

 DAY 2 – March 23/2011

There will not be a lot of time for blogging today, but so far all the presentations gravitate back to the notion that landscape level approaches are the key to sustainability in the 21st century – something that we call “bioregional approaches” at Ecotrust. Jeffrey McNeely gave an excellent presentation on the need to rethink the relationships between built and natural infrastructures at regional scales.

Surely, these thoughts will give form to the rest of the sessions, and I keep this in mind because I was asked to Chair the session on building the International Model Forest Network Charter on Friday. As a result, much of my time today is spent on gathering feedback from our regional Chairs and Presidents (Africa, Mediterranean, South-America, Canada, Asia, Northern Europe/Russia) in preparation for the session.

DAY 3 – March 25/2011 – Consensus on the IMFN charter!
20 years after Rio and the development of the first Model Forests, the time had come to agree on an international charter for model forests, and after some uncertainty we got it done. Thanks to efforts from the regional leads, and the International Model Forest Network Secretariat (special kudos to Nicolas Duval-Mace, Christa Mooney, and Peter Besseau) a thoughtful set of principles were proposed that confirm our core intent, outlines our basic organizational nodes and structure, and helps situate our work in relation to that of other international groups.
While the Charter will prove a useful document, I was most interested in the conversations and debates that arose as we attempted to come to agreement. Key points of discussion included:
1) Do we need to formalize at all? After all, Model Forests have grown well without a charter, and some were concerned a hard document could rigidify the organization.
2) The question of membership and belonging to regional networks was front and centre, and the outcome demonstrated that Model Forests are not scared of cross-scale arrangements. For instance, member sites will be allowed to maintain membership in more than one regional network, based on interest and commonalities at different scales. For example, the Urbion Model Forest in Spain will continue to belong to the Mediterranean network, but also to the South American network based on their shared language and history. Similarly, our new members in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco made very good headway to belong to both the African network and the Mediterranean network – accommodating bioregional and political alignments. Needless to say, our colleague from Tunisia got a warm applause for his presence considering events unfolding in his country.
3) On our brand and international niche – my favorite intervention was the comment by Jim Ball – head of the Commonwealth Forestry Association – that Model Forests really were “model forests” (small cap), and that instead of having a screaming and bold brand perhaps the better strategy would be to remain a quieter vehicle for other international organizations to deliver and test their work. This resonates with me, and I hope we will take this to heart as we craft our strategies forward.
4) The Charter spells out the leading role of Canada in supporting the international network, and most regions seemed to agree that this was a good thing. There was unanimous and enthusiastic support for the work done to date. Most importantly, the conversation highlighted that from a governance resilience perspective we should also think about a Plan B for the long-run, in the unlikely event that Canada was not in a position to continue leading the charge.
5) Lastly, while we will kicked back the charter to a sub-committee to polish some minor points, the most impressive part of the discussion was the tremendous amount of positive energy, and realization that model forests are  here to stay – that we have likely grown enough sites, created enough diversity of funding sources, and most importantly have now so much grassroots support that key ingredients seem in place to ensure a bright future for the network and impact for the communities we serve.
Ronnie De Camino, Chair of the Ibero-American Network, celebrating our progress!

DAY 4  March 26/2011
With the International Charter agreed on, the last day was spent on organizing around our network’s 3 global initiatives:
  • Addressing rural communities sustainability,
  • Supporting community responses to climate change,
  • Re-integrating ecological goods and services into the economic equation.
As part of the break-out groups put together to strategize around these initiatives, I chose to join 10 French-speaking colleagues from Morrocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Cameroun, Republique du Congo, Canada, and France to craft our network’s approach to address rural community sustainability.
Highlights of our small group work – which will be collated with that of others over the next weeks, included defining drivers of community sustainability, and identifying opportunities for the network to have global impact on what is typically a local topic. 
At the end of a two hour conversation our group concluded that the LONG TERM GOAL for model forests to foster community sustainability, based on our unique access to stable and diverse regional tables, could be to “inform and influence the design and delivery of international rural/social finance investment programs.” With 58 sites spread across the globe, we came to the realization that our shared experiences do add up, and could indeed prove valuable to those who attempt to deploy international programs, such as the World Bank, international NGOs, and other development organizations.
DAY 5 – March 27/2011
As I set off to Bilbao for a day of rest and exploration, my initial reflections on the Forum and Symposium are as follow:
a) Model forests are uniquely positioned, through their regional emphasis, to link local voices with global challenges and opportunities;
b) Landscape-level regions could prove the appropriate lens to reconcile economy, ecology, and people in the 21st century;
c) The Model Forest Network’s greatest strength could be its embrace of a panarchic mode of operation; of an understanding that we need to be flexible and adaptable in order to create a habit of building solutions at multiple scales.
As for next steps? With a Charter in hand and momentum from Burgos, I believe it will be easier to grow our core initiatives, and further prove of value to communities and other organizations on the international scene.
¡Gracias tanto Espana!
 Last day in Bilbao, with Guggenheim Museum in foreground, and the new corporate headquarters of Iberdrola in the background – one of the largest operating wind energy companies in the world.