Relationships between Multi-scaled Criteria and Indicators Initiatives in North America

S. R. J Bridge,[1] P. Wright and R. Rios


Much of the initial focus on developing criteria and indicators (C&I) for sustainable forest management (SFM) has resulted from the need for countries to report on national progress toward sustainability. However, SFM involves issues at multiple scales and achieving national goals of sustainability largely rests on actions carried out at the forest management unit (FMU) scale. The relationship between scales can be complicated, but must be made clear in order to rationalize the use of multi-scaled C&I and ensure efficient implementation. This paper examines the various approaches and mechanisms used to develop and implement multi-scale C&I initiatives in North America. At a national scale, Canada, Mexico and the USA use the Montréal Process C&I. Canada also uses a compatible national C&I set endorsed by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. Sub-nationally, various state and provincial C&I have been developed, typically based on the country's national C&I framework. At the FMU scale, Model Forests have led C&I development. Also, recent tests of C&I in the USA have helped develop a core suite of FMU scale C&I. Several challenges to further developing C&I at multiple scales exist. Sustainability is a human value, not a fixed independent state of social, economic and ecological affairs. Concepts of sustainability vary across scales and C&I frameworks must be flexible and adaptable over time. National and FMU scale C&I can help answer questions unique to their scale and provide feedback for decisions at other scales. Managing for sustainability requires thinking across all scales, but monitoring and assessing sustainability must recognize that different questions and different methods are appropriate for different scales. Gathering appropriate data continues to be a significant challenge to C&I reporting. Reporting has typically been easiest for environmental and economic indicators. Efforts to develop effective, measurable indicators of social values and non-timber goods must continue.


Much of the initial focus on developing criteria and indicators (C&I) of sustainable forest management (SFM) has resulted from the need for countries to report on national progress toward sustainability. However, there has been growing realization that sustainability issues involve multiple scales and that achieving the national goals of sustainability largely rests on actions carried out at the local or forest management unit (FMU) scale. The relationship of national scale C&I to sub-national and FMU scale initiatives is of growing interest. The relationship between scales can be complicated, but must be made clear in order to rationalize the use of multi-scaled C&I and ensure efficient implementation

This paper briefly outlines the different approaches and mechanisms used by Canada, Mexico and the United States to develop and implement multi-scale C&I initiatives and examines relationships between them. A number of challenges are identified along with measures taken or needed to address those challenges.

Multi-Scale C&I Initiatives

National scale C&I typically refer to large spatial areas with the initiative based on the political boundaries of the country. National C&I provide a scientific basis for the improvement of policy and legislation, administration, guidelines, and performance measures that enable sustainable management at other scales.

Sub-national initiatives vary in scope and scale. In some jurisdictions sub-national areas refer to sub-administrative areas such as states or provinces. In others, they are more broadly labelled 'regions', and may be defined ecologically or on the basis of broad administrative groupings. As the definitions and boundaries of these sub-national areas vary, so too does the purpose and application of C&I.

Forest management unit scale C&I initiatives have a more targeted spatial area and focus. Total land area and ownership size might vary, but the focus is based on the assumption that it is at the FMU scale that most of the decisions about management occur. Although administrative and management factors that enable sustainable management are important components for context setting, the focus of most FMU-scale initiatives is on the outcomes or state of the ecological, economic, and social systems and not on the inputs to management.

In addition, at the local scale, certification systems have been developed that work with market-based forces and typically focus on the compliance of local managers with best management practices. Although both certification and C&I initiatives share some similar concepts, they employ two different types of tools. This paper focuses primarily on C&I initiatives.

Multi-scale C&I initiatives can provide complementary means of assessing social, environmental, and economic progress toward SFM. Together they can provide the critical elements of an adaptive management system.

Development of National Scale C&I in North America.

The Montréal Process

In February 1995, Canada, Mexico and the United States, along with nine other temperate and boreal forest countries, endorsed the Montréal Process framework of 7 national level criteria and 67 indicators (MP Liaison Office 1999).

In 1997, the Montréal Process countries issued A First Approximation Report of the Montréal Process (MP Liaison Office 1997). This report provided a summary of early implementation of the Montréal Process C&I by the countries. While the report revealed that as many as 87 per cent of the indicators were being reported on, true national statistics were provided for only 39 per cent of the indicators. Additionally, there were gaps in the ability to report for 50 per cent of the indicators. Still, despite these difficulties, the Montréal Process countries decided to continue to use the 67 indicators because they represented current issues that surround dialogue on SFM and, over time, data would become available.

In 2000, the Montréal Process countries produced a progress report describing the progress of each country to date (MP Liaison Office 2000). In 2003, the Montréal Process countries will release an Overview Report, a collective report on a subset of the Montréal Process indicators.


Forests in Canada are 94% under federal, provincial or territorial government ownership. In 1995, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), which includes federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for forests in Canada, agreed to a set of national C&I, similar to the Montréal Process C&I, for SFM. These national C&I were developed in consultation with governments, academics, industry, Aboriginals, and other interest groups, at the same time as the Montréal Process C&I. The two sets of national C&I are very similar and are viewed as complementary. Canada uses the CCFM Framework of C&I to report on the Montréal Process.

In 1997, Canada released technical reports on its ability to report on both the Montréal Process (CFS 1997) and the CCFM C&I (CCFM 1997). These reports showed that Canada had the ability to report on about 75% or the indicators. In 2000, Canada released Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in Canada: National Status 2000 (CCFM 2000). This was Canada's first attempt to report on SFM in Canada using the CCFM framework of C&I.

In 2001, recognizing that data availability and our understanding of ecosystems have improved, the CCFM initiated a review of its indicators. The review, which will conclude in September 2003, will revise the indicators to improve their relevance and efficiency for assessing progress toward SFM at the national level. Public involvement is an important part of this process and various sectors of society, including Aboriginal, academia, industry, non-governmental organizations, and the general public are involved.


In Mexico, 80% of the forest land belongs to ejidos and communities. Just 15% of the forest land is private property owned by individuals while the government owns 5% of the forest land. Processes to foster community participation in forest management have existed since the 1980s, but in 1992 the Forestry Law was passed, formally introducing the concept of SFM. However, questions about implementing this concept quickly emerged and it was unclear how ejidos might apply SFM to their forest lands. Pilot projects were initiated, but the release of the Montréal Process C&I in 1995 provided a valuable tool for evaluating SFM in Mexico. In 1997, Mexico produced its First Approximation Report using the Montréal Process C&I.

In 2001, Mexico decided to establish a national mechanism to encourage the participation of other institutions. Initially, a National Technical Advisory Committee was created with 10 institutions of the federal government involved in the forest sector. The volume of information available quickly led to the creation of seven working groups, each responsible for one of the Montréal Process criteria. This new initiative also helped to involve seven other institutions.

A preliminary report on the work of these groups was released in August 2002. This report showed that Mexico is currently able to report nationally on 54% of the Montréal Process indicators. It is anticipated that an additional 24% of indicators will be reported on in the medium term and 22% in the long term. In the coming months, a national report on the Montréal Process C&I will be published.

United States of America

Through its commitments to SFM and the Santiago Declaration, the US has been actively involved in national-scale C&I for many years. Throughout 2002, the, federal natural resource agencies worked actively on the preparation of the 2003 report of the state of the nation's forests using the Montréal Process C&I (www.sustainableforests.net). To assist in the broader dialogue on sustainable forests and specifically in the preparation of the 2003 report an independent, national Roundtable on Sustainable Forests was formed to facilitate multi-stakeholder involvement. The Roundtable is a key part of the project thus the Roundtable serves as a venue for communication, discussion and dialogue about SFM.

Beyond the preparation for the 2003 report there are wide spread uses and applications of the Montréal Process C&I that have evolved in a variety of different venues. National scale strategic guidance and performance review structures to the national fire plan have benefited from the use of the MP C&I. There is also a concerted effort to adapt the Montréal Process national scale C&I for application to minerals and to grasslands.

Different Approaches to Identifying and Developing Relationships Between Multi-Scaled C&I Initiatives

Canada, Mexico and the United States have all identified the need for C&I initiatives at sub-national scales and have used a variety of mechanisms to develop and implement them. These approaches are summarized below, although, the focus here is not on the C&I themselves, but rather on the mechanisms for their identification, development, and implementation.


Sub-National Scale Initiatives

At the various meetings involved in developing the CCFM C&I, it became clear that no single set of C&I could satisfy the needs of all regions and all scales. Local and provincial managers, increasingly interested in C&I for their potential application to certification, began to seek mechanisms for developing sub-national indicators.

Several of Canada's provinces have engaged in developing provincial sets of C&I, generally starting with the national C&I framework and adapting indicators as necessary. For example, the province of Ontario recently released its set of provincial C&I in its 2001 State of the Forest Report (www.mnr.gov.on.ca/MNR/forests/forestdoc/sofr/index.html) (OMNR 2001). In reporting, Ontario attempted to analyze the indicators in terms of broad goals and objectives, and to make some evaluation as to the status of the indicators and criteria. As with C&I frameworks elsewhere, data are not available for all of the indicators in Ontario's framework. In some cases indicators need further development. However, Ontario's framework is dynamic and will continue to develop over time as new knowledge, monitoring techniques, and data become available.

Forest Management Unit Scale Initiatives

One of the major mechanisms for developing sub-national indicators in Canada has been Canada's 11 model forests. In keeping with the participatory concept of the model forests, a series of stakeholder meetings was held in each model forest to develop local sets of sub-national indicators. The Model Forests regularly exchanged notes and experiences in order that each might benefit from the progress made in the others. In most cases, the national indicators were used as a starting point and adjusted to suit local needs and conditions. Although this has led to indicator sets that are well-tailored to the needs of each region and are linked to the national set, this decentralized process has also meant that the resulting sub-national indicator sets differ from each other in several respects.

Within the model forests, reporting on the various local-level indicators has started with those for which data are most readily available. The model forests have strong research components, which will help with reporting on the remaining indicators. The model forest indicators are being used outside the model forests themselves. For example, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, a partner in the Western Newfoundland Model Forest, has worked closely with that model forest in developing indicators for use elsewhere in the province. Recently the Model Forest Network produced A User's Guide to Local Level Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management (CFS 2000). This is available at www.modelforest.net along with a database of local level indicators developed and used by the various model forests.


FMU Scale Initiatives

There are number of FMU scale initiatives underway on C&I in Mexico. Mexican model forests have been involved in designing C&I initiatives for those areas and some implementation has begun. As a result of participation in the original CIFOR test of FMU scale C&I in North America (see below) the need for further initiatives at the FMU scale in Mexico was clearly established. With the assistance of the US Forest Service and US AID, a pilot test of FMU-scale C&I conducted by Mexican forest agencies and a local community forest (Ejido El Largo) is underway for temperate forests. A second test is being explored for a tropical forest site in Mexico.

As part of the pilot project the Ejido El Largo project involves data collection, analysis and production of a report of recommendations. This phase of the project is being conducted in the summer and fall of 2002. Subsequent applications of the methodology in tropical Mexico or other temperate locations may afford more opportunity to involve a broader range of publics.

United States of America

Sub-National Scale Initiatives

In the United States, forested areas are overlain by diverse, and largely decentralized, jurisdictional, ownership, and organizational patterns. The need for sub-national indicators has been made evident by the need for a framework to speak a common sustainability language, share data, assess progress and coordinate plans of the various agencies and organizations responsible for different aspects of land and resource management.

In the US, there are a number of initiatives at the sub-national scale, which have typically been delineated in either ecoregions or in administrative/state groupings. For example, The Northeastern Area Association of State Foresters has agreed to use a sub-set of 18 of the original 67 Montréal Process indicators to report on progress towards sustainability for the 20-state area and for individual states (http://na.fs.fed.us/sustainability/).

Forest Management Unit Scale Initiatives

As a first step towards using local-unit C&I in North America, the US Forest Service and The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) tested FMU-scale C&I near Boise, Idaho in 1998. Government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations from Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. participated. An important outcome of the CIFOR-NA test was recognition that local-scale C&I can provide the information needed for sustainable management of US National Forests.

Based on this preliminary test, the Forest Service Local Unit Criteria and Indicator Development (LUCID) test was chartered. One of the most significant innovations of the LUCID test was to explicitly place the development of the C&I set within a systems framework. The intent was that the systems framework would help the FMU focus on what is really important and what is secondary to systems. This could, in turn, reduce the seemingly infinite number of potential monitoring elements to a feasible number capable of producing meaningful information. It would also allow the opportunity to explore the interdependence of various system components.

The results from the LUCID test were synthesized and a common systems framework and core suite of C&I were identified that are applicable across FMU's. Beyond the FMU-scaled C&I themselves, the products included a process for FMU scale sustainability monitoring, and recommendations for integrating FMU scale monitoring into forest planning. Work is now underway to begin implementing the lessons learned from the LUCID pilot tests in a number of different areas from forest planning to local scale stewardship projects across the Forest Service.

Challenges and Knowledge Gaps

Sustainability is a human value, not a fixed, independent state of social, economic, and ecological affairs. As such it is not an 'absolute' because it is dependent on social values and involves multiple dimensions and scales, including those of time and space. At the national scale, a country's concept of sustainability may be influenced by broad scale perspectives such as general trends in national environmental conditions, national social or institutional issues or the balance with other national priorities. At the sub-national scale, the C&I will focus on eco-regional conditions, state/provincial economies and program effectiveness. At the local scale, conceptions of sustainability will vary from stakeholder to stakeholder and will vary with unique forest conditions, the importance of forests in the traditions and economies of the area, and the nature and type of land ownership. While at each scale and for each property owner or manager the land management objectives may vary, collectively their individual actions contribute to sustainability. Regardless of the scale at which they are applied, however, C&I frameworks must be flexible and adaptable over time. As society's values around sustainability change over time, C&I frameworks will need periodic revision to ensure that they continue to accurately and efficiently report on progress towards SFM.

National and FMU scale C&I programs represent complementary tools that can be used to show progress towards sustainability. Each tool helps answer a set of questions unique to that scale and provides feedback for different kinds of purposes and decisions at other scales. Managing for sustainability requires thinking across all scales, but monitoring and assessing sustainability must be based on the recognition that different questions and different methods are appropriate for different scales. There is clear philosophical overlap and interdependence between the national, sub-national and FMU scale sustainability monitoring initiatives although the purposes, tools, and approaches are by intent different and therefore not easily translated one to the other.

Occasionally, however, the questions to be addressed are similar enough between scales that the same measure could be used for the indicator. Where shared data elements can be identified between national and FMU scales, monitoring efficiencies can be achieved. The development of national inventory systems in Canada, Mexico and the US will help to facilitate multi-scaled data collection for indicators that may benefit from common data.

In addition to a desire to identify efficiencies in shared data, there is some desire in understanding how sustainability assessments at one scale can contribute to sustainability assessments at another scale. If we look at the results of smaller scale sustainability assessments as a whole, aggregating the results of one assessment to another scale is not appropriate or feasible. In understanding the relationship between initiatives at different scales most of the value comes from narrative descriptions that describe the results in a context fashion.

Often in assessing sustainability, it has been easiest to report on environmental and economic indicators as they often rely on data traditionally collected in forest resource inventories or on general economic data. However, developing effective, measurable indicators of social values and non-timber goods and services has proven to be more of a challenge for many C&I processes. The model forests and academic researchers have been undertaking studies in this area with some success. However, continued support for this type of work is needed.


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[1] Criteria and Indicators Policy Advisor, Canadian Forest Service, 8th Floor, 580 Booth Street, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1A 0E4. Tel: (613) 947-9034; Fax: (613) 947-9038; Email: [email protected]; Website: www.nrcan.gc.ca/cfs-scf