The 43rd International Forestry Students’ Symposium

by Miku Lenentine,
SEFS Doctoral Student

What kind of conference lasts for two weeks, allows you to completely immerse yourself in another culture and way of viewing natural resource management, creates opportunities to meet more than 100 forestry students from more than 40 countries, and provides a chance to experience the world of forestry through an international youth perspective? Why, the 43rd International Forestry Students’ Symposium, of course!

Salina Abraham (left) and Miku Lenentine.

Salina Abraham (left) and Miku Lenentine.

Through the official establishment of the UW IFSA Local Committee in February 2015, Salina Abraham and I had the chance to be the first-ever delegates representing SEFS, UW and the West Coast at this amazing event. It’s hard to capture the magnitude of this experience in a few short paragraphs, but I will try!

IFSA World is an international nonprofit run completely by students. It is the largest student-run organization of its kind, and it strives to be the voice of global youth in conservation and environmental management. With partners like IUFRO, CIFOR and FAO, IFSA truly is the voice for students and future resource managers, and it offers a direct pathway to attending and representing youth at events like the UNFCCC COP 2015 in Paris this year.

Much of the business of running IFSA and cultivating this leadership takes place at the annual symposium, and this year’s gathering was held in the Philippines from July 28 to August 10. The range of activities and experiences there was incredible. At the Senate of the Philippines in Manila, we got to attend presentations from industry professionals and top researchers from the University of the Philippines, Los Banos. We participated in local natural resource management field tours, including planting mangrove trees, hiking through the Los Banos experimental forest (largest in the country), and visiting a rice museum to learn about the challenge of rice cultivation and balancing extractive resource management with food productivity.

Miku at the rice museum.

Miku at the rice museum.

We also attended the IFSA General Assembly, which feels like a mini-United Nations. That’s where all of the elections and business decisions for IFSA World are conducted for the coming year. It was a very new and educational experience for me, and all protocols for behavior and communication were quite formal. Before anybody spoke, for example, they were expected to stand and state their name and country. As part of this year’s General Assembly, as well, Salina and I were both nominated for IFSA World leadership positions, and we are now a part of the 2015/2016 IFSA World Officer team. Salina serves as the International Processes Commission Head, and I am the regional representative for the United States, along with a counterpart in Canada.

Giving my talk, “People Matter – Effectively Gauging Social Acceptability in Natural Resource Planning,” was my first experience presenting my preliminary research results to an international audience, and my first experience speaking to a group larger than 50 people! I thought I would be a minority in studying human dimensions, but I was surprised by the number of people who said my presentation resonated with them. In fact, a major theme of the symposium was becoming a “society-ready” forester.

One of the biggest things I learned from attending the symposium was that the term “forestry” is not just about silviculture and timber harvests. Forests mean life. Everything is forestry—it encompasses and is connected to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, too. We are all foresters in this sense, even me (I am apparently a social forester!).

Students learning how to catch hermit crabs.

Students catching hermit crabs.

Another important takeaway for me was getting to know the other participants and learning more about forestry conditions in their countries. The level of informal knowledge we shared was amazing, even with simple questions like, “What is your forest like?” Also, with more than 100 of us traveling everywhere together in overstuffed open-air taxis called Jeepneys, we all grew quite close. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together, laughed together, got lost together, sang karaoke together, and many of us made new friends for life in the process.

By far the greatest value for me from attending IFSS 2015, though, was experiencing an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and inspiration as I connected with my newfound peers and friends from around the world. We are all working on this together, ushering in a new generation of sustainable resource management for the future. And though the challenges we face are daunting, I am inspired to continue, inspired to do better, and inspired to create a new path forward together.

I want to end with a special shout-out to Sajad Ghanbari, former SEFS student and current founder of a new IFSA local committee at the University of Tabriz in Iran, who inspired the whole thing by saying, “Gosh, why don’t you have a UW IFSA?” And now we do!

Photos © Miku Lenentine.

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