Pondering the Role of Culture in Sustainable Forest Management

SP-06 Cultural values, quality of life and forest landscapes


Liu Jinlong and fellow presenters discuss Cultural Values, Quality of Life, and Forest Landscapes
Liu Jinlong and fellow presenters discuss Cultural Values, Quality of Life, and Forest Landscapes

Scientists are always questioning. They question popular theories, basic assumptions, statistical methods, simplified models, and so on and so forth. Sometimes all I want is a straight answer. If I was seeking one today, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Speakers for the subplenary session on cultural values, quality of life, and forest landscapes were knowledgeable, articulate, and thought provoking. They stirred my curiosity and handed me a heaping plate of questions stuffed within questions.

Three common themes ran through this session: (1) history weaves ecosystems and cultures into bio-cultural landscapes; (2) humans play a variety of roles on forested landscapes, both detrimental and beneficial; and (3) sustainable forest management requires attention to history, culture, and livelihoods. Speakers illustrated these themes with examples from around the world.

Bohemian Forest, a bio-cultural landscape in southern Czech Republic, is under siege. Not by insects or by war, but by polarizing politics. Some Czechs regard this area as the last pristine forest in Europe. Others see it as a production forest. The conflict escalated into the “Bark Beetle Blockades” with wilderness activists tied to trees in protest of salvage logging.

Jiří Woitsch, a historian with the Czech Academy of Sciences, feels extreme positions run counter to sustainable forest management. The middle ground represents a stronger, more accurate viewpoint. Bohemian Forest is a working landscape, not truly pristine or entirely trammeled. Historical records and maps reveal centuries of human use. Impacts range from small-scale logging for potash production to construction of a 44 km long canal for timber transportation.

Resource extraction does not characterize all bio-cultural landscapes. In China, humans are peaceful creators and inhabitants of Fengshui forests. Communities intentionally manicured these forests to protect temples and placate ancestral spirits. Many of these forests are ancient. The Mausoleum of Yellow Emperor boasts cypress trees planted over 1,000 years ago. Unfortunately, globalization and the devaluing of traditional livelihoods threaten the future of Fengshui forests and their human communities.

International initiatives seek the protection of intertwined human and ecological communities. For example, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) and SCBD (Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity) organized the Linking Biological and Cultural Diversity Programme. This joint venture involves scientific research, case studies, interactive conferences, and policy proposals. In Italy, the National Register of Historical Rural Landscapes is a regional effort to celebrate human heritage in rural areas.

Bio-cultural landscapes seem innocuous at first glance. However, I’m filled with questions that render my science background useless. The concept of bio-cultural landscapes calls for value-based discussions, social deconstruction, and introspection of cultural identities. Sounds like a GREAT dinner conversation. I invite you to toss these questions around with an IUFRO friend tonight. Let me know how it goes!

  • What elements of your culture were shaped by the ecological landscape? How has your culture shaped the landscape? Can you even distinguish cause from effect?
  • How would you articulate your worldview of the relationship between humans and nature? To what degree was your view shaped by society, your parents, your profession, etc.?
  • In restoration ecology, the term “historical range of variability” refers to fluctuations in ecosystem structure, composition, or processes prior to human alteration. Could “cultural range of variability” become a useful concept for sustainable forest management and ecological restoration? If so, how?
  • Do you value “natural landscapes” over those strongly shaped by human activities? Why might that be?
  • How does the concept of bio-cultural landscapes extend to traditional livelihoods incongruent with sustainable forest management (e.g., slash and burn agriculture)? Who decides which traditions are “good” and which are “bad”?


Written by: Megan S. Matonis

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