By Lin Ye
Forests are a critical component of ecosystems, and the effective management of this natural resource is a topic of great concern to sustainable development and humanity. On March 7, Ralph Schmidt, former director of forest programs with the United Nations Development Program, led a seminar on sustainable forest management for Earth Institute students and alumni.
“We are now in the position where all forests on the planet have been affected, altered, by humans,” Schmidt told the students. “But forests don’t depend on humans; it’s the other way around. For 99.9 percent of their existence, trees and forests did without us. The acorns were here long before the squirrels.” This seminar—part of the Earth Institute’s Sustainability Skills Seminars—examined how forests, their management and conservation efforts affect sustainable development.
Schmidt covered a broad range of interrelated topics, such as: the biology and ecology of forests; the chemistry of wood production; biodiversity and wildlife conservation; deforestation and poverty; the global carbon cycle and climate change; and the economics and financing of forest management and carbon offsets. He introduced students to the different benefits that forests provide to humanity and talked about how forest managers and ecologists develop options for their management. Schmidt also raised the question of whether private sector investment in sustainable forest management can contribute to conservation and the global environment, and reviewed the institutions and political issues that affect forests in both high and low-income countries.
Keith Wong, a master’s student in Sustainability Management, said “this was a great opportunity to learn about managing forestry assets. [I learned] how the proper management of forests can be profitable, and still be sensitive to forest ecology in the face of an ever growing human population.” The seminar was followed by a question and answer session, which drew discussion around the central question of: How should governments, specifically those in developing countries, manage issues regarding their forests?
The seminars are part of the Earth Institute’s Professional Development program, and provide a unique opportunity for students and alumni to gain insights from practitioners in the sustainable development field. These seminars are open to students and alumni from Earth Institute affiliated programs, including: the M.S. in Sustainability Management and associated certificates in Sustainable Water Management, Sustainability Analytics and Sustainable Finance; the M.P.A. in Environmental Science and Policy; the M.A. in Climate and Society; the MPA in Development Practice; and the Sustainable Development undergraduate program.
Lin Ye is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. He is a graduate student at Columbia and graduated in 2015 with a master of science degree in sustainability management.