Fundamentally, Model Forests are about changing the way people think about and interact with each other, as well as the variety of natural resources important to their lives and livelihoods.
By definition, Model Forests are based on an approach that combines the social, environmental and economic needs of local communities with the long-term sustainability of large landscapes in which forests are an important feature.
To that end, Model Forests act as a neutral forum where initiatives linking forestry, research, agriculture, mining, recreation, and other values within a given landscape can interact and influence each other over time. They are intended to be dynamic and innovative “models” of sustainability from which others can learn to advance their own goals.
How does it work?
In a Model Forest a variety of people with differing interests and perspectives form a voluntary partnership based on the following goal: to manage their own natural resources in a way that makes the most sense to them given their history, economic and cultural identities, and in a way that does not jeopardize future generations.
The partnership defines what sustainability means in their own context, develops a common goal, a transparent governance structure and a strategic plan, then works together to achieve the goals set out in that plan. These goals typically strive to harmonize economic and non-economic priorities alike. In addition, Model Forest partnerships are very effective at identifying economic opportunities not based on timber alone.
A key element in any successful Model Forest is trust in the other partners around the table. Building that trust takes time, particularly if partners have a history of conflict or marginalization. That is one reason why a Model Forest is best thought of as a process rather than a project.
A Model Forest is not a community forest, a demonstration forest, or a protected area but importantly these elements can and do exist within a Model Forest. In other words, geographically a Model Forest must represent a wide variety of uses and values at play within a particular landscape, such as a watershed or even several watersheds.
It is important to note that participation in a Model Forest does not affect land tenure, nor do does it imply the creation of new administrative roles. Stakeholders benefit by gaining direct access to landowners and policy-makers who can be influenced by discussions around the Model Forest table. Where land tenure is an important issue to stakeholders, the Model Forest can occupy the space between governments/landowners and communities and offer a forum where challenging or sensitive conversations can take place.
Principles and Attributes
Because the conditions under which the sustainable management of forest landscapes can vary from one site or region to another, the Model Forest concept was designed to be flexible. But if no two sites are identical, how does the Network function? What binds these diverse sites together? Model Forests are linked through a common philosophy that forms the basis for networking and knowledge sharing: the Model Forest Principles and Attributes (PA) Framework.
The PA Framework provides a baseline as to what a Model Forest is. It was developed at the request of IMFN members to help ensure the Network’s integrity and as a guide for new as well as older sites.