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SCU professor heads up United Nations 2011 Year of Forests committee


Jane Munro
18 March 2011
Professor Jerry Vanclay, Head of Southern Cross University's School of Environmental Science and Management, has been appointed head of a national steering committee to co-ordinate celebrations around Australia marking the United Nations 2011 Year of Forests.

Three themes have been identified for celebrations: forests for protecting the environment; forests for biodiversity; and forests for sustainable timber production. Professor Vanclay, who will attend the official launch of the Year of Forests at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday, March 21, said the appointment was an honour and an important opportunity to facilitate critical discussion about forests in the broader community.

"Too often we get bogged down in the narrow, single-issue matters such as a code violation here, a boundary adjustment there, but what is really needed is to stimulate a slower, broad-based non-emotive discussion about the role of forests in our world," Professor Vanclay said.

"The United Nations International Year of Forests helps to focus attention, and to get the full range of stakeholders - conservationists, environmental service providers, wildlife habitat managers and timber producers - to participate in this discussion. This is a chance to engage the whole community, worldwide.

"To offer an example about the importance of broader discussions, consider the scenario if we 'lock up' all of our forests in national parks, you might immediately think it will help our native plants and animals, but if you think about it more broadly, it might also mean we increase our carbon footprint by using imported non-sustainable timber, and by using carbon-heavy steel and concrete.

"So the actual outcome may be that by locking up a particular forest we have exposed our national park forests to more rapid climate change and all that would have been achieved was that we effectively rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic.

"What we need to find a truly effective solution is a more nuanced approach. We need to: produce enough of our own timber in a low impact way that we can reduce imports and reduce use of carbon-heavy alternatives; increase off-reserve conservation by working towards wildlife-friendly farms so that our wildlife will have a place to survive even if fire, storms or floods damage our parks; and to make people more aware about the environment so we're all monitoring and adjusting our activities.

"It is an honour to be appointed in this role and it also forces me to step up to the role of facilitating and encouraging public dialogue - a role that I've long considered important. The discussion that we want to progress with the community is a critical one and what is exciting about this opportunity is that if we do think about the big picture and engage with all stakeholders, we can arrive at some clever and truly innovative long-term solutions."

The national steering committee for the 2011 United Nations International Year of Forests includes: representatives from the forest industry sector including Timber Communities Australia, the Forest Products Association, the National Association of Forest Industries, the Australian Timber Importers Federation, and Forest and Wood Products Australia; staff and students from Southern Cross University; sawmillers; and the Institute of Foresters of Australia.

"Our aim is to be inclusive, and to cover the breadth of interest in native and plantation forests, and to avoid lobbying for any particular sector. We are inviting any industry stakeholders or community members who are interested in this discussion to get in touch," Professor Vanclay said.

Professor Vanclay is Professor for Sustainable Forestry, and Head of the School of Environmental Science and Management at Southern Cross University. Before joining Southern Cross University, he was Principal Scientist with the Centre for International Forestry Research, and Professor of Tropical Forestry at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jerry received a higher doctorate (D.Sc.For.) from the University of Queensland in 1992, received the Queen's Award for Forestry in 1997, and the IUFRO Scientific Achievement Award in 2010. His research interests focus on information systems and conflict resolution for forest and land use management. Jerry chaired the Expert Independent Advisory Panel to the Minister for the Environment in Victoria (2003-09), and is a member of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication.

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Photo: Professor Jerry Vanclay has been appointed head of a national steering committee to co-ordinate celebrations around Australia marking the United Nations 2011 Year of Forests.