A group convened by one of the world’s leading scientific institutions has issued a call for greater protection of primary forests and more inclusive approaches to conservation.
Last month the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco brought together 167 scientists, educators, civil society leaders, artists, and interested members of the public at the Forest Solutions Summit to discuss approaches for bolstering protection and wiser management of global forests. The one-day event featured dozens of speakers from around the world, ranging from an Ethiopian conservationist to a high school teacher from Minnesota.
Presenters and participants shared a variety of ideas for protecting forests, including encouraging individuals to adopt personal zero deforestation commitments to encourage adoption of zero deforestation policies in the corporate sector, strengthening protections for old-growth forests and forest-dependent communities, greater emphasis on “bottom-up” conservation and involving local communities in conservation efforts, and leveraging new technologies to study and monitors forests and wildlife. Speakers explored concepts like the U.N. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program, defaunation, ‘bioliteracy’, agricultural intensification, and sustainable livelihoods.
“The Forest Solutions Summit spurred conversation and cross-pollination among the forest research and conservation community—an important step in bringing organizations together (whether their mission is to protect forests, or wildlife, or people) to reach solutions that empower local people to protect their lands,” said the California Academy of Sciences in a statement. “Deforestation is entwined with global greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration. Yet many summit participants stressed the importance of local solutions: addressing the food and water resource needs, now and into the future, and empowering local and indigenous peoples as stewards of their forests.”
The California Academy of Sciences. Courtesy of the Academy.
Some of the speaker highlights from the event included:
- Jon Foley, the Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, providing a big picture overview of the future of forests and food production. He noted that “We can’t think about saving forests without talking about food” since agriculture is the largest driver of deforestation. Yet deforestation for food production is not helping address food security at the bottom of the pyramid: most agriculture in the rainforest is for urban markets and export rather than local consumption. Foley argued that while the challenges are daunting, it should be possible to meet projected food demand without destroying more forests by cutting waste, shifting diets, and rethinking how food is produced.
- Guillermo Castilleja of the Moore Foundation talked about the opportunity afforded by the growing share deforestation driven by a relatively small number of influential corporations.
- Flora Lu, a researcher at UC Santa Cruz, spoke of the role indigenous people can play in protecting forests using the example of the Waorani people’s fierce defense of Yasuní National Park from outsiders. But now that region is under threat from energy extraction.
- Jose Fragoso, a researcher at Stanford, described the value indigenous communities can have in field research, citing large-scale biological surveys conducted by community members in Guyana. He too emphasized the importance of recognizing the contributions of indigenous people in forest conservation. “300 to 500 million indigenous people occupy 20 percent of the world’s protected lands,” he said. “Self governance by forest peoples can ensure sustainability in biodiversity, forest covers and livelihoods within their lands.”
- Meg Lowman, Director of Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences, and Worku Mulat, an Ethiopian researcher with the TREE Foundation, talked about approaches to conserving forests in Ethiopia. Lowman told the remarkable story of how churches in Ethiopia are helping maintain and expand forests, while Mulat described the importance of involving girls in conservation efforts.
- Justin Brashares of UC Berkeley talked about the knock-on efforts of environmental degradation, including how deforestation can lead to disease outbreaks, child labor, and social conflict.
- Stanford University’s Rodolfo Dirzo built on that theme by detailing how the elimination of key species — “defaunation” — is leading to the “rodentation” of some ecosystems, with implications for community structure, vegetation, and even humans.
- Alex Friend of the U.S. Forest Service talked about the value of urban forests, stating that such forests provide upwards of a billion dollars annually in California alone. He noted than half of the state’s water comes from forests within National Parks.
- Emily Burns of Save the Redwoods detailed the incredible ecosystem services provided by California’s redwood forests, revealing that some old-growth forests may store upwards of 5,000 tons of carbon per hectare, an order of magnitude greater than typically found in a tropical rainforest. She also talked about the importance of involving multiple stakeholders in protecting forests.
- Cam Williams of UC Berkeley explained how redwood trees grow so tall.
- Several speakers talked about ways to communicate conservation messages and science to different audiences. D.C. Randle, a high school teacher in Minnesota who leads trips for underserved students to the Amazon, explained how experiences in nature can spur a “lifelong passion for nature, and often a career in science.” Perrin Ireland of the Natural Resources Defense Council gave tips on how to get people excited about science, while the Academy’s ant-specialist Brian Fisher said natural history museums shouldn’t be seen as a warehouse of dead creatures but portals to life, understanding, and conservation. He emphasized the need for “bioliteracy” among all ages. Musician Nick Roth described how he created music from patterns he observed in nature.
- The Academy’s Bryson Voirin discussed his innovative research into sleep patterns of wild sloths and koalas that upended long-held beliefs that those slow-moving canopy dwellers were lazy. He touched on the emerging use of “drones” for conservation science.
- Karen Holl of UC Santa Cruz talked forest restoration approaches, noting that outcomes are highly variable. Therefore, she said “REDD+ should focus first and foremost on conserving natural forests” rather than reforestation and forest restoration.
After a consultative process, the group come up with a consensus statement urging “individuals, industry, NGOs, foundations, and governments to halt the destruction of primary forests, sustainably manage all forest ecosystems, and support the people who live in and rely on these valuable global resources.” The entire statement is reproduced below.
The Forest Solutions Summit. Photo by Allison Hanes of Amazon Watch.
A Consensus Statement on Global Forest Conservation
The international forest science community calls upon individuals, industry, NGOs, foundations, and governments to halt the destruction of primary forests, sustainably manage all forest ecosystems, and support the people who live in and rely on these valuable global resources.
On January 22, 2015, the California Academy of Sciences hosted a Forest Solutions Summit that brought together 167 scientists, students, and educators to address growing concerns about the state of the world’s forests and forest-dwelling communities. Throughout this event, a diverse group of speakers presented new discoveries and innovative approaches to ensuring the long-term future of the world’s forests. A consistent theme connecting the day’s presentations and discussions was the need to better understand the roles that forests play in human health, both for indigenous local people and for all people who utilize their ecosystem services.
Two immediate outcomes of the Summit were the creation of a Bay Area network of forest scientists and a commitment from the Academy to continue highlighting the most pressing forest conservation issues and innovative solutions for solving these problems. In addition, Summit participants suggested the following set of actions for individuals and institutions to promote the greatest positive change in global forest conservation. Summit participants and organizers are urged to test these suggestions in their own lives and institutions and share their successes with everyone in the network.
- Pledge to help preserve forests
- Plant trees
- Buy shade-grown coffee
- Buy sustainable timber
- Become an active member of the forest community by joining a forest conservation organization
- Give children opportunities to explore nature in fun, unstructured ways
- Share what you know about trees by mentoring children and young scientists
- Spread the word about forest issues—and don’t be afraid to preach beyond the choir
Institutions (Industry, NGOs, Foundations, and Governments)
- Raise awareness about the value of forests and their connection to global human and ecological health
- Improve bio-literacy, both among citizens and within the government
- Create opportunities for girls to enter the educational system and become stewards of their own local environments
- Create educational opportunities for people from diverse ethnic and cultural groups
- Develop workshops that empower people to create their own solutions
- Help forest-dwelling people understand the true value of their forests
- Collaborate to create new meaningful and sustainable livelihood options for forest-dwelling people
- Promote programs that fund and encourage citizens to plant trees
- Encourage individuals to make a personal zero-deforestation commitment—and show them how!
- Promote and fund technological innovations that help preserve forests and forest communities
- Develop new strategies for feeding the world’s people—increase productivity, reduce waste, distribute more effectively
- Mentor emerging leaders from forest communities worldwide
- Nominate and promote forest heroes
Full disclosure: I was the moderator for this event.