The Forest Dialogue Week at Yale

The Forest Dialogue Week at Yale

Every morning at 9:00, the administration emails students the calendar of events at the school for the next seven days.  A steady stream of guest speakers, informational interviews, and networking lunches vie for students’ attention.  This week’s Forest Dialogue Week is a prime example of the embarrassment of riches we constantly face when sorting out our daily schedules.

The Forest Dialogue (TFD) is an organization that facilitates discussion and collaboration across stakeholders on the most pressing local and global issues facing forests and people.  TFD Week at Yale brings together international leaders from the forest sector to address current issues in forest management and to build shared understanding and work towards collaborative solutions.  Participants in TFD include activists, industry representatives, community leaders, academic researchers, and of course students who are themselves doing innovative work in forestry.  Topics covered range from corporate responsibility to community engagement.  This week, Yale F&ES is hosting TFD week on campus, giving students unparalleled access to the issues and leaders working at the front lines of the international forest sector.

So far this week, I have been able to attend two of the several public talks being held across campus.  On Tuesday at noon, I sat in on a talk sponsored by the Yale Forest Forum called “Certification: Market Dynamics from the Forest Owner to the End Consumer.”  Then on Wednesday, I was able to fit in the talk on “Translating Policy into Practice: The Case of REDD+” between classes and group projects.  Although I’m pleased to have made it to two very interesting talks, unfortunately I was just barely able to scratch the surface of the lectures, panels and meals that TFD has organized for the week.

The talk on certification featured two representatives from industry leaders in forestry products.  Sophie Beckham is an F&ES graduate from 2002 with an M.F. degree.  She is currently the Global Forest Stewardship and Sustainability Manager at International Paper, the world’s largest procurer of forest fiber.  Skip Krasny, the talk’s second speaker, works as the Manager of Sustainable Forestry Programs at Kimberly-Clark Corporation.  Kimberly-Clark is a leading consumer products company, producing such household names as Huggies, Kleenex and Kotex, making them a major consumer of market pulp.  Both speakers shared their company’s journey with certification and labelling through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  This label recognizes a sustainable approach to forestry that includes the land base, supplier relationships, and responsible policies, which can be communicated to consumers through brand labelling.  Both speakers were emphatic that the continued success of the certification depends on consumer demand, and they recognized that while sustainable management could, and often does, occur without certification, FSC approval served at a “proof point” for appropriate management.

The second talk that I was able to attend brought together experts on the UN REDD+ program from around the world.  Guests included Uta Jungermann from Switzerland, Dominic Walubengo from Kenya, Ghan Shyam Pandey from Nepal, Milagre Nuvunga from Mozambique, Cécile Ndjebet from Cameroon,  Miriam Swaffer from the Union of Concerned Scientists in D.C., and Peter Umunay, a first year F&ES PhD student from the DRC.  The conversation was moderated by Chris Buss from the IUCN.  Each speaker shared some of their insights into REDD+ generally and on its application in their country in particular.  All agreed that while the promise of carbon credit payments presents an important aspirational goal for the program, the real value of REDD+ participation currently comes from the multiple ancillary benefits it creates.  Guests from several different countries referred to the program as an avenue for reform to improve governance and institutions, working to correct the indirect or underlying drivers of deforestation.  Several speakers noted that the impact of REDD+ extended far beyond environmental sustainability, allowing countries to move toward policy reforms that bring justice, equity and security to minority groups including local communities, indigenous people and women.  It was clear from the talk that while REDD+ has a long road ahead of it to achieving its stated goals, assorted benefits of the program are already accruing to different stakeholders at multiple stages of the development process.

To be clear, I am not studying for a Masters of Forestry or Forestry Science, and I’m certainly not a forestry specialist – my ecosystems of choice tend to be grasslands and deserts.  However, the issues covered this week in The Forest Dialogue transcend forest management.  Although framed in the context of forestry, the conversations stimulated by TDF are extremely applicable to my area of interest, as well as to many other avenues of environmentalism and conservation practice.  The talks have touched on issues relating to translating science into policy, equity and access in natural resource management, and the market drivers that impel companies to adopt voluntary conservation initiatives.  As is so frequently true of F&ES-sponsored events, The Forest Dialogue talks resonate with a diverse audience with a broad mix of interests.