by Thibault Vermeulen, Yale School of the Environment, M.E.M ’23 and TFD Program Associate
The Forests Dialogue (TFD) is a center based at the Forest School within the Yale School of the Environment. Since its founding over 20 years ago, it aims to bring together perspectives from different sectors, peoples, and priorities within forestry. As a multi-stakeholder platform, TFD is governed by a Steering Committee that comprises members that work across a wide range of fields in forestry. This year, TFD is pleased to welcome its newest Steering Committee members, Ana Bastos, Carolina Toapanta, and Ara Erickson. They join a group of 25 rotating members who help drive TFD’s dialogues and initiatives. In this important role, each will help set the direction of TFD, identifying the most pressing needs for dialogue in the sector and engage others in discussions around those issues. All three share their experiences working in multi-stakeholder dialogue, as well as their vision for TFD and perspectives on upcoming challenges for the world’s forests.
Carolina Toapanta sees TFD as an opportunity to “present practical and collaborative solutions to forest conservation and sustainable forest management challenges,” as well as articulate community-level perspectives: “we, who are in the territory and know the local reality, can make our voice heard through this platform.” She currently works as the executive director of the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation in Ecuador. With a background in tropical biology and sustainable practices in tourism and bio-entrepreneurship, she has become an advocate for local communities´ interests in forest management: “my goal is to make the voice of the forests heard, because I realized that in the Ecuadorian coast, forests have no voice. There is no one to defend them.” As the director of Ceiba Foundation, Toapanta is working toward promoting a bottom-up conservation strategy where “rather than having central government impose policies, the local governments are the ones creating their conservation areas for territorial planning.” Carolina also shares her thoughts on the broader context of dialogue: “it is obviously crucial to include civil society in these dialogues, because we are the ones who execute the projects within the territory. We know exactly what is going on locally, how these ideas are perceived by local communities and which solutions are the best fit for certain areas.”
Ana Bastos aims to support TFD’s Forests and Climate umbrella initiative, and Climate Positive Forest Products (CPFP) in particular, which explores how to meet the emerging demand for timber in the construction sector while helping to conserve and restore forests. Bastos hopes to “bring forward Brazil’s extensive experience in forest management,“ while learning from other countries’ mass timber practices where “the theme is more widely discussed than in Brazil.” After years of experience working in the chemical and agro-food industry, she is currently the CEO of Amata, a Brazilian forest company, whose subsidiary Urbem focuses on renewable and sustainable timber construction, also known as “mass timber”, to promote sustainable forest restoration. Her work with Amata helped her learn about sustainable forest management and the value of forest products: “Our belief is that for the forest to develop, the market needs forest products to become mainstream and mass timber has countless advantages. For the construction industry, it is a renewable option that promotes carbon capture.” Bastos also emphasized the crucial role of the private sector in the dialogue process: “it must participate in the discussion. It has to collaborate across the board to understand these perspectives of the various stakeholders and translate them into opportunities.”
Like Bastos, Ara Erickson also joins TFD from the forestry sector. For her, it was TFD’s bringing together of social and natural sciences that drew her towards the organization: “Groups like The Forests Dialogue provide a place for us to really get into the messy parts of where humans and the natural world collide and where they can work together.” Erickson is currently vice president for corporate sustainability at the U.S.-based company Weyerhaeuser, where she gets to bring her holistic view of forestry: “I think forestry is so amazing as you have to think about systems and how one decision impacts another decision and how to pull a lot of things together that are very complex.” Her work in urban forestry research-based coalition building helped her understand the importance of multi-stakeholder dialogue: “I’ve had a pretty varied career. Often I’m in a place where I’m helping people understand something that is either complex or there’s lots of really strong or differing opinions.”
We also discussed the most pressing challenges related to forestry. Thinking about the relationship between forests and climate, Erickson reflects: “we’ve lost a connection to forests and a real understanding of how they operate. We developed a reliance on forests to do so many things while lacking a connection to them, particularly rural resource lands.” In Toapanta’s views the challenges are linked to global trade dynamics, particularly in Ecuador where “trendy monocultures like dragon fruit are our main drivers of deforestation.” She also expressed concerns about forests and water supply, an issue around which TFD is planning to launch a scoping dialogue later this year: “forests are the livelihoods of the future because they sustain water sources.” For Bastos, one of the main issues is the competition for land use: “In the future, forests will be competing for land with agriculture and cities. We are already seeing this play out today. I think this is a theme that will become increasingly present in upcoming dialogues.”
Bringing together their perspectives from diverse organizations, industries and regions, our new Steering Committee Members also hope to expand their knowledge on forestry on an international level and work across a wide range of TFD’s initiatives. Gary Dunning, Executive Director of TFD, believes their contributions will be very valuable, and he very much looks forward to this exciting collaboration: “We welcome Ana, Carolina, and Ara to our Steering Committee. Having them join affirms TFD’s commitment to engage the most diverse and representative leaders to address the most pressing global challenges in the forest sector today.”
Thibault Vermeulen is a first year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of the Environment, specializing in Environmental Policy Analysis. He also works as a Program Associate with TFD where he helps support The Fire and Land Use initiatives.