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Sustainability Roundtable Builds Partnerships

by Robin Maille

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What do the American Forest and Paper Association, the Forest Service, and the World Wildlife Fund have in common? They are all members of the Sustainability Roundtable. Since its inception in 1998, the Sustainability Roundtable has focused on trying to reach agreement on what the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators mean for forest management and conservation in the United States, how various data for each of the criteria and indicators will be collected, and what agency or NGO should be responsible for acquiring this data. As a first step, Sustainability Roundtable members have convened a series of technical meetings to identify existing regional and national data sets and gaps of information for the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators.

"When everyone works from the same base of information, from a set of reliable sources," remarks Brad Smith, USDA Forest Service Inventory and Analysis, "then we can better identify gaps in information." Says Smith, "Of the 28 Montreal Process biological indicators, 9 of them have been a part of Forest Service sampling for 70 years.
Bill Banzhaf (SAF), Jerry Rose (Minnesota State Forester), Phil Janik(USDA FS), Mary Coulombe (AF&PA), and Bill Mankin(GFPP) discuss their participation in the Sustainability Roundtable.

The Forest Service is the best organization to continue collecting that information. However, of the remaining 19 biological indicators, 10 are clearly in the realm of other organizations." Roundtable members agree that multi-stakeholder cooperation is essential for gathering relevant data.

"Having broad support for the data needed and agreement on protocols for measuring data will help ensure successful implementation of Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators and give the effort public credibility," says John Heissenbuttel of the American Forest and Paper Association. One challenge for stakeholders is coming to agreement on the interpretation of certain indicators and deciding how to evaluate them. "For some indicators, no science currently exists to evaluate them," says Heissenbuttel.

Roundtable participants are working on developing non- value-laden interpretation of the criteria and indicators using objective data. "The bottom line is, are we maintaining resources or depleting them?" says Kevin Birch, a planning coordinator with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Bill Banzhaf, Executive Director of the Society of American Foresters, observes that interpreting data and applying it to practice is difficult. "How do we know if we are doing a good or bad job?" Banzhaf asks.

It has been apparent from the onset of the dialog that different members of the forestry community will interpret the data differently. Rob Hendricks of the Forest Service Office of International Programs reminds us, "The indicators were designed to be simple and easy to communicate to the public." The initial process used to identify appropriate criteria and indicators involved a very large number of stakeholders, technical experts, and governments worldwide. As with the Nation's economic indicators, the significance of each indicator and its trends will have different implications for each interest group. "Our concern at this moment should be to encourage consensus on the elements of sustainable forest management in a non-threatening way," says Hendricks.

One early benefit of the Sustainability Roundtable has been to provide a way for stakeholders with varying perspectives and constituents to communicate in a common language. In addition, the roundtable is focusing on issues of mutual interest. The Sustainability Roundtable has the potential to develop a commonly agreed upon means to assess sustainable forest management, and to minimize controversy regarding forest management practices.

Jerry Rose, State Forester of Minnesota and representative of the National Society of State Foresters Sustainable Forestry Committee says, "State foresters have long been interested in defining and practicing sustainable forestry. The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators and the work of the Sustainability Roundtable provide a framework to determine sustainable forestry definitions and practices. I look forward to helping refine and implement practices based on good science."

"The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators is another tool in our tool kit for realizing our conservation goals," states Nicholas Brown of World Wildlife Fund. "The roundtable's work over the coming months and years will show whether the process is useful and implementable."

Robin Maille is editor of the International Program News.

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