Forest governance is a complex topic, and we are living in complex times. A quick analysis of the EU and global policy environment in 2022 results in an intricate puzzle of overlapping but also contradicting sectoral policies in the fields of agriculture, energy, climate and environment that are relevant to forests. National and municipal forest strategies and plans add another layer of intricacy to the equation. And that’s not to mention the many ecosystem service demands by society that often compete at the local level!
To unravel the complexity of the topic and work out different perceptions of governance challenges in forest restoration, researchers and practitioners gathered at the SUPERB Governance Innovation Lab, hosted by project partner Prospex Institute in Opatija, Croatia, between 27-29 June. There, participants exchanged innovative local and regional approaches to forest governance, discussed how these could apply to SUPERB’s large-scale demos, and created first synergies with partners outside the project consortium.
For those who missed the event, we from EFI have compiled a list of 9 take-home messages from the Governance Lab:
- Innovation goes beyond technology
Despite the frequent association between innovation and technology, innovation doesn’t always come with the use of new tree monitoring gadgets, more powerful drones and other high-tech inventions. Simply put, innovation is the process of making changes to something established by introducing something new. An innovative governance culture can be instilled by the adoption of a new strategy, novel modes of collaboration and coordination, the creation of a new institution or the reconfiguration of existing processes, said Carsten Mann, from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development and the InnoForESt project. For example, developing partnerships and co-creating forest management solutions with the general public and the private sector can lead to the adoption of new practices that seemed unthinkable in the context of top-down decision-making.
- Scarce resources can spark innovation
Lack of funding often limits forest management options and can even mean the end of a restoration project. But it might as well make people creative! In one of the protected areas of Croatia’s Istria region, the lack of resources for monitoring biodiversity led to the establishment of a citizen science programme which garnered the active participation of local communities, said Silvia Buttignoni, Managing Director at Natura Histrica.
- When it comes to management goals, sometimes, less is more
Amidst the growing demand for forest ecosystem services (such as biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, clean air and wood production), forest managers might end up suffering from goal overload. Having too many goals in parallel creates administrative burden and makes it hard to choose between different needs and interests. Dieter Mortelmans from Belgium’s Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), shared a simple but ingenious solution applied by the Contracts 2.0 project: creating scorecards to analyse and compare the effective provision of environmental public goods. The scorecards enabled land managers to identify synergies and trade-offs between different ecosystem services and prioritise those that were most important, making well-informed decisions on which goals to pursue based on multiple criteria.
- From decision support to discussion support
Although generating knowledge and creating new tools to inform decisions can be helpful, reinventing the wheel isn’t always necessary. In certain cases, it can be more efficient to build on pre-existing knowledge and focus instead on creating trust and a strong basis for cooperation between stakeholders involved in restoration, such as public administration agencies, forest owners, local communities, forest enterprises, nature protection groups and others. “Listening to people in real life instead of reading reports allows us, if not to reach consensus, to live with the decisions we have chosen to make”, said Mortelmans, from the Contracts 2.0 project.
- Multiple forest benefits are good – but fair distribution is equally important
Creating protected spaces for stakeholder dialogue is not only useful to gain acceptance and legitimacy for forest restoration. More importantly, it helps to ensure a fair distribution of restoration benefits. Liisa Tyrväinen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE) highlighted that picking forest restoration sites that are easily accessible to the public improves societal support for restoration and creates synergies in terms of recreational and cultural ecosystem services. On a similar note, Marcel Hunziker, from SUPERB partner Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) stressed the need for a wide societal debate on who should have a say on the future development of forests and contribute to their restoration visions. “Forests do not belong only to forest owners and to nature conservation areas, but in touristic areas, they also belong to the general public”, he stated.
- Don’t overlook the importance of human resources
Forest restoration is a long-term endeavour, meaning that natural conditions, funding scenarios and policy environments might change along the way. Finding the right people with intrinsic motivation, good interpersonal connections and committed leadership is of utmost importance to the continuity of restoration efforts throughout the years. “Restoration requires upfront investments, and actors are hesitant when the outcome is uncertain. Therefore, it is key to have powerful stakeholders on board who take over the leadership”, said Carsten Mann from the InnoForESt project.
- Monitor failures as much as successes
Keep an eye open for what works but also for what doesn’t! Too much pressure to succeed can hamper innovation, while concentrating solely on what is going well takes the focus away from areas in need of improvement. Remember that success is also relative: it depends heavily on the selected success criteria and on how success is being measured.
- Consider different scales but don’t take the local perspective out of focus
There is no point in trying to implement a top-down restoration vision that is incompatible with local conditions. Factors such as environmental stressors, species threatened, forest ownership structure, market dynamics, involved stakeholders and institutions are all particular to each forest landscape. “There are many vertical issues of governance, but decisions are ultimately taken on the municipality level”, said Hunziker, from WSL. To better align different scales of governance, Marko Lovrić, from EFI, suggested contrasting local restoration activities with wider policy objectives and available instruments to see where potential synergies are.
- Be inquisitive
Finally, asking the right questions is key, said Lovrić. Who makes decisions? Who stops decisions? What are the true interests of those involved? How does institutional context shape decisions? What is one’s own positionality in the forest restoration ‘space’? Being inquisitive can help forest managers identify unforeseen challenges and be open to new solutions and ideas.