Model forests - the concept

What is a model forest?

Physically, a model forest comprises a relatively large area in which forestry is the main land use. The boundaries of the area should form a well-defined eco-geographic unit, e.g. a watershed.

One of the core attributes of a model forest is that the land base be at a scale that fully reflects the key environmental, social and economic values and concerns of the region. At the same time, it should be small enough for all stakeholders to feel a sense of belonging. Forestry should be the main, but not necessarily the only, land use in the area. Current model forests range in size from 60,000 to 2.7 million ha.

From an organizational perspective, a model forest is a voluntary partnership between all who have a stake in the sustainable management of the forest resources within the area selected, be it individuals, organizations or private companies. The main landowners, tenure holders and others with responsibilities over the land must have an interest in participating if the partnership is to succeed.

It is important to note that the rights of participating landowners and land managers are not superseded by the model forest. The model forest concept does not imply transfer of ownership or decision making powers. Rather, it aims to open up and influence the decision-making process by providing a forum where the partners can gain a greater understanding of conflicting views, share their knowledge, and combine their expertise and resources to identify, develop, apply and monitor the effects of innovative, locally-specific approaches to sustainable forest management. In so doing, model forests should incorporate research and development and promote the application of appropriate practices through demonstration. They must function as a centre for human resource development and capacity building through information sharing and transfer of technology.

The primary activity of model forest is the joint development, testing, implementation and demonstration of innovative, sustainable approaches to the management of forests for a range of different benefits in accordance with the "Forest Principles". Important activities in model forests include defining sustainable forest management (SFM) in locally relevant terms, developing and monitoring local level indicators to measure progress toward SFM, sharing information and experiences through demonstrations and networking, and establishing active feedback mechanisms between local and national or sub-national policy levels. Individual sites are linked through national networks and through the International Model Forest Network

A model forest is not a short-term development project focusing on community forestry, watershed management, and research or on narrow technical issues such as wildlife management or reduced impact logging. It is an open-ended/long term process, which brings together people to sustainably manage a relatively large area for a variety of purposes. It draws on the lessons learned from the above and other relevant technical fields and aims to stimulate innovation and synergy through the pooling of human and financial resources.

How applicable is the concept?

The model forest concept, like the "Forest Principles", is applicable to all forest types, ownership patterns and management objectives, and can be used as a framework for the sustainable management of forests and other wooded lands worldwide. Individual model forests often consist of a mix of natural forests and plantations, privately, communally and/or publicly owned forests and forests managed for purposes ranging from short-term plantations established for wood production purposes to protected areas. Agricultural and urban areas may constitute part of the model forest area.

The International Model Forest Network

The concept of model forests as described above was initially developed in Canada, where the initial Model Forest Programme (MFP) started in 1990. Ten sites were originally selected for the implementation of the model forest approach and twelve model forests now exist in the country. In 1992 this initiative grew into the International Model Forest Network (IMFN) launched at UNCED. As with the Canadian Network the purpose of the International Model Forest Network was to stimulate the field-level application of new concepts and ideas in sustainable forest management and to create opportunities to share these experiences.

At present, 22 model forests, covering a total of more than 12 million ha, exist in seven countries (Canada, USA, Mexico, Chile, Russia, China and Japan). Model forests are currently being established in six other countries (Argentina, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, the Philippines and Indonesia). In addition, Panama, Paraguay, Brazil, Senegal, Malawi, India, Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea and Australia have expressed an interest in developing model forests.

The IMFN is supported by a Secretariat housed at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa. The Secretariat supports existing sites in technical and organizational matters and facilitates inter-site networking in a number of specific areas. Canada is currently funding the costs of IMFN activities and the Secretariat, and has agreed to fund up to 40 % of the estimated costs for the next five years. A review of the governing structure, future functions and funding of the IMFN is currently ongoing.

The IMFNS publishes a regular Newsletter (in English, French and Spanish) and has recently issued a Model Forest Development Guide available in English, French and Spanish, Chinese and Thai.

last updated:  Monday, September 3, 2007