Beetle Fighters?

By George Fullerton

As Canada’s Model Forest program marks its 15th anniversary, and Athe federal government looks at new directions for national forestry programs and initiatives, there is good reason to reconsider the future of the Model Forests Network and ensure it continues with a sustainable funding plan.

Back in 1992, the Model Forests program was promoted as a way to help Canada meet its commitment to the “forest principles” coming out of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, which would guide global sustainable forest management initiatives. The Canadian government backed up the commitment to sustainable forestry with the National Forest Strategy Coalition and the Canada Forest Accord.

The first phase of the Model Forests program established large scale land bases in each forest region across the country, and brought together forest industry interests, government and nongovernment organizations with interests in their respective forests—and assisted them in building working relationships. The second phase saw Model Forests develop local level indicators that would be a baseline to measure sustainable forest management. The third phase saw development on initiatives including carbon budget modeling, climate change and private woodlot stewardship challenges.

It has been a long, hard road to get the Canadian Model Forests program on the ground and working. Lately the Canadian Model Forest Network was designated a non-profit entity and left with only interim funding from the National Research Council. Meanwhile, government is launching the Forest Communities Program which is designed to assist forest-based communities in meeting the challenge of forestry sector transition.

The Canadian government would be well advised to dig deep to find funding to sustain, at least, the more successful Model Forests because from the way the wind blows, we’ll be looking for them to help us out.

The National Research Canada Mountain Pine Beetle Activity report delivered at the Canadian Woodlands Forum spring meeting illustrated that Canada has an unprecedented challenge: the beetle has crossed the Rockies and is moving east across the boreal forest towards the Atlantic Coast.

British Columbia knows all too well the devastation brought on by the mountain pine beetle. Since it has moved into Alberta, the beetle is found to have as good an appetite for jackpine, as it has for lodgepole pine. With the boreal forest containing a high proportion of jackpine, it is suddenly vulnerable.

Mountain pine beetle populations have historically been held in check by periods of deeply cold winter weather. But scientists are warning that the beetle is about to illustrate to us—very effectively and succinctly—the impact that our warming climate will be dealing up for us.

As the beetle eats its way across the country, the Model Forests are strategically situated in distinct forest regions and have the political and scientific structure and the working relationship among the diverse membership to study, analyze and develop action plans to mitigate the beetle’s impact.

The Model Forests were built by inviting all stakeholders to sit at a table, share their perspectives, work together and develop consensus decisions for actions for sustainable management of their respective forest. It is remarkable that the diverse forest-based interests could effectively work together to plan strategies, and then act together to influence forest management and direct forest research.

The Fundy Model Forest is made up of a million-acre area that covers Crown, industrial freehold, private woodlots and Fundy National Park, representing the Acadian Forest Region. To say that relationships amongst some of the original thirteen partners in Fundy were polarized is an understatement. But the Fundy did persist and the partnership learned how to conduct discussions and move to action through consensus building. No one partner achieved all of its objectives, but every partner achieved at least some of its goals. Over the years the partnership saw new partners join, as well as reduced participation by others. Overall, the partnership grew and moved forward, achieving significant sustainability goals.

Fundy was instrumental in introducing and promoting remarkable growth in concepts and technologies including partnership building, public participation, conflict resolution, landscape design, water table mapping, ecological land classification, more effective growth and yield calculations, GIS and GPS technologies and green certification.

Fundy, like other model forests, sprouted an adjunct model forest— Nova Forest Alliance in Nova Scotia. Nova, in turn, provided key support that established the PEI Model Forest Partnership. Similarly, the Canadian Model Forest Network helped to develop _5 model forests in seventeen countries around the world.

The model forest concept proved a resilient and effective mechanism to bring communities together, to work collaboratively on forest issues. The mountain pine beetle presents an unprecedented calamity that will require collaborative effort to address and mitigate its effects. Because the warming climate has precipitated the beetle and since the warming trend will not quickly be addressed, there will be similar issues that will require collaborative efforts.

The model forest concept offers a proven template for forest-based communities to mobilize to deal with the mountain pine beetle and other climate change driven issues. Model forests are important for Canada—and a tool that works all around the world.

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