Friday, July 27, 2012

ATP mines a wealth of information from forestry colleagues in New England…

ATP’s SEEDS program manager Vardan Melikyan was in the U.S. recently on a working visit and we had a chance to meet with several colleagues working on tree planting, land conservation, and community/sustainable forestry. 

SEEDS, or “Social, Economic, and Environmental Development for Sustainability,” is a program launched in 2011. It has allowed ATP to build capacity in its reforestation programs while improving results through a greater emphasis on community development and investing in social capital in the areas where we are planting trees.

The week started off with Watertown’s Tree Warden, Christopher Hayward, who described his efforts to expand the urban canopy in this suburb of Boston. This was followed by a behind the scenes visit with Oren McBee, the greenhouse and nursery manager at Harvard’s prestigious Arnold Arboretum.

We headed west to meet Levon Kachadoorian, who has owned and operated Everlast Nursery for more than 25 years and built the business from the ground up with his own hands. ATP’s Watertown staff joined Vardan for a visit to Harvard Forest where we viewed the dioramas portraying the evolution of New England’s forests since the 1700s and were treated to an informative hike through the 3,000 acre forest with ecologist John O’Keefe.

The day concluded after a meeting with the executive director of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, Leigh Youngblood, who has been a pioneer in innovations to achieve landscape-scale conservation in partnership with local and national stakeholders.

The final day of visits began with Mark Leighton, an expert on rainforest ecology and sustainable forestry, who described some of his experiences in Indonesia to curb illegal logging and work with industry to protect wildlife habitat.

Our last meeting before the start of ATP’s executive committee meetings was with Robert Perschel of the New England Forestry Foundation. NEFF is a recognized leader in sustainable forest management and assisting landowners in the long-term management of their properties.

By the end of the week, I realized there were several common themes that came through in meetings with these various experts. I’ll summarize them here, since they are cornerstones of sustainable development that transcend borders and can inform the work of NGOs like ATP all over the world.
  • It’s critical to take stakeholder interests and opportunity costs into consideration in project design.
  • NGOs are working on program “innovation” to address widespread funding constraints.
  • The strength of relationships and importance of community development programs cannot be underestimated.
  • Direct community involvement and ownership in a project is critical to ensure its success and sustainability.
  • There has to be a means for legal contract enforcement in place for public-private partnerships to be successful.
We are grateful to the individuals and organizations mentioned above and commend them on their work on land conservation, environmental restoration, and in general, making the world a better place.