Forest Policy means Resilience – Wageningen Meeting

What do we mean when we talk about forest policy and governance? We also mean resilience. The Second International Forest Policy Meeting has presented it quite clearly.

More than hundred participants from 20 countries attended the Second International Forest Policy Meeting which took place in Wageningen between 11th and 13th of April. During the event, participants discussed four main themes: 1. Forest governance, 2. International policy&politics, 3. Community&society, and 4. Conflict&control. They could undeniably experience that forest policy is way more than the actions of powerful actors operated within an institutional structure and enhanced by bureaucracy.

Can forests be legal entities?

It seems obvious to most of us that specific species, animals, and plants, are protected by special laws and regulations. However, it is getting less natural when we talk about rivers, forests or trees as legal entities. Or maybe rather opposite?

The Guardian has recently published an article “It’s only natural: the push to give rivers, mountains, and forests legal rights” where author Jane Gleeson-White describes a recent tendency in the Western environmental legal system. “This new approach to environmental law was introduced in the US by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, whose first success came in 2006”, writes Gleeson-White. The discussion about legal rights for the environment and its elements, during last ten years, has exceeded debates within environmental philosophy and anthropology and happened to be a focal point of many social movements.

“A complex universe of meanings” – anthropological perspectives on the forest

The forest is much more than what is visible on the surface. Thinking about the resilience of future forests one has to remember that for contemporary societies a forest is ‘a complex universe of meanings’. The role of woodlands expands beyond their environmental functions and touches such crucial issues like identity. Trees, forests and green spaces contribute to a sense of belonging, create bounds with place and develop feelings of attachment to a space. The history of forests is always entangled with a history of people who live upon them: foresters, local residents, visitors from cities, ‘ordinary people’. In many countries forests play a significant role in the national culture. There is a conviction about the joint spirit and history manifested in trees and national nature cared for by previous generations. It is believed that the past of a society can be traced in the textures of the land. As a result, trees are not just supposed to grow, but very often they should teach us how and what to remember.

My essay “Trees that must remember” tells a story of the relation between the memory and trees on the example of Polish forests. From my anthropological point of view I am demonstrating how in the contemporary society cultivating nature can at the same time become managing a memory. Based on examples from local forests my essay describes how the forest itself is turned into the synonym for the fatherland and national heritage. In present-day states, natural spaces, including forests, are places where the national myth is played out.