Systems in Progress: A Summary of This Year’s International Society of Tropical Foresters Annual Conference

Every year the International Society of Tropical Foresters convenes a conference of members, scientists and tropical foresters at Yale University to discuss trends and issues in the management of the world’s tropical forests. This short summarizes the 2012 conference, which took place earlier this year at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.


We are well past the point where we only value the timber production of forests,” began Jan McAlpine, Director of the United Nations Division on Forests and head of the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat, opening our Thursday ceremonies with a keynote address illustrating the important ideological principles of the conference and its participants. She then went on to share inspiring stories and examples of restoration, conservation and activism from all over the world. A particularly touching story was of a group of Girl Scouts concerned about massive deforestation due to palm oil production, who have vowed to remove palm oil from their Girl Scout cookies.

Panel 4 - Scaling up, with Pedro Brancalion, Eduardo Malta Campos Filho, Pipa Elias, and Cora van Oosten (Photo by Vanessa Lamers)

The three-day 18th Annual International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) conference at Yale titled “Strategies for Landscape – Scale Restoration in the Tropics” brought together tropical forestry experts from all over the world to share ideas on addressing strategies and restoration. The connections formed during this weekend will forge research ties, improve multidisciplinary networking websites, and facilitate open access document sharing. The fully student-organized conference occurs every year at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and the co-chairs Rachel Kramer, David Ross, and Ryan Sarsfield along with the other organizers created an inspiring and productive conference for participants this year. Eighteen leaders in tropical forestry presented their research, expertise and experience with strong emphasis on using and retaining indigenous knowledge and working with – not against, agriculture.

When we look at forests we see them as systems in progress, they are under construction,” said the second keynote speaker, Dr. Robin Chazdon, who is a professor at the University of Connecticut, while showing the audience a photo of a lush, green forest, with a yellow “under construction” sign in the middle. An entertaining and engaging presenter, Dr. Chazdon, a highlight of the conference, spoke of the “checklist” for successful natural regeneration. She used numerous international examples, largely from Central and Latin America where much of her research is focused. Some of these tools included robust topsoil, weed suppressing plants, fire protection, and animal diversity. “You need the whole tropic system to get a forest back,” she said. The audience nodded in unison, acknowledging the importance of bugs; even if we don’t want them in our kitchens, we need them in our forests.

The conference concluded with all panelists on stage discussing how to share resources, retain local knowledge, create policy change, and network in a more multidisciplinary way. The challenge now remains for participants to better integrate the tools and methodologies of ecology, psychology, sociology, biology, and forestry to reach these goals.

Vanessa Lamers

Vanessa Lamers is a Joint Degree student, working towards a Master of Public Health and Master of Environmental Science at Yale.

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