Widespread deforestation of tropical forests is creating an enormous challenge for foresters and decision makers across the world, but especially in developing countries. How can the rich productive potential of tropical forests be preserved in the face of mounting pressures for food, shelter, energy, and economic development? There is no simple answer to this question - historical, cultural, and ecological conditions are unique to each nation, and each must develop responses based on its own needs. Without question, capable natural resource professionals working within national level agencies are prominent actors in the international efforts to manage tropical forests, and their capacity to deal with the complex issues of resource management is a critical prerequisite to the long-term sustainable production from the world's forests.

    The International Seminar on Forest Administration and Management, based in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, is a catalyst in this effort, offering an exceptional training opportunity to the key decision makers in natural resource management agencies and universities in developing nations. Through a month-long study of alternative management strategies and discussions with their peers, seminar participants identify the functional requisites of successful US based forest management organizations and the elements of effective forest production and protection systems. These new skills and management concepts can subsequently be applied in the forestry programs in their home countries.

    Each year the seminar welcomes natural resource professionals from each of the world's major geographic regions. Although enrollment is limited, participants are selected from a large pool of applicants to insure a broad distribution of representation. A wide range of specialties within natural resources management is encouraged, since the seminar curriculum encompasses many aspects of forest management, and a variety of talents within the group promotes the cross-fertilization of concepts. Generally, not more than three individuals from a single nation attend in any given year. Increasingly, participant representation has been originating from Eastern Europeans, Africans, Asians, Americans and islanders are mixed and able to contribute to and gain from a common experience.

    Past participants have included multiple chiefs of service, ministry level administrators and some of the other most important decision makers within a nation's natural resources sector. Participants are selected from the pool of nominees on the basis of their position within their organization, their administrative experience, their education, their English language skills and their potential to provide continuing influence to natural resources policy.

    The International Seminar on Forest Administration and Management is conducted jointly by the United States Forest Service International Forestry Staff and The University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment. The seminar is an intensive month long study program held each year in the months of September and October. The course is designed primarily for forest administrators, policy makers, university faculty and planners from developing nations. It examines a broad spectrum of forest protection strategies, management practices, and institutional arrangements in both the public and private sectors. The seminar began in 1984 with a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (AID). The grant terminated in 1986, and the seminar has operated exclusively on financial support from outside sources ever since as it operates on a self-sustaining budgetary system based on income from seminar fees paid for each participant directly to the University.

    Through a combination of classroom and field experiences, the seminar creates a unique forum to discuss the complex forest management issues which forest administrators face worldwide. It is a model which is unavailable elsewhere in the world, and has demonstrated remarkable potential for innovation. Using an examination of forestry practices in North America as a context, participants apply constructive critiques to established forest policies, while selectively gathering ideas which have meaning to their own situations. The seminar utilizes an experiential approach to information exchange, visiting forestry field offices, several major universities, forest research stations, and international development agencies. Topics presented typically include policy development, planning, utilization, protection of biological diversity, integrated resources management, critical decision making, conflict resolution, forestry extension, forest landscape ecology and much, much more.

    Since the long term utilization of resources is only possible when production systems are integrated with adequate protection systems, the seminar stresses integrated resource management, or the simultaneous application of a set of management activities to benefit the greatest array of resources. Needs of different types of forest users, such as farmers, fuelwood gatherers, cattle raisers and mineral developers, are investigated to discuss how developments can be designed to maintain resource integrity while allowing necessary extractions. Discussions on techniques in agroforestry and visits to plantations under intensive silvicultural management help describe the potential for increasing productivity from limited available lands.

    The diversity of representation in the seminar allows for an exciting and stimulating exchange of ideas. With decades of cumulative experience and applied knowledge, seminar participants are able to share fresh perspectives among themselves and their counterparts in the United States. Seminar elements are designed to allow ample time for comments and questions, clarifying presentations and focusing concepts to the issues most relevant to the visiting managers. Small group discussion sessions and problem solving teams generate imaginative suggestions and spontaneous feedback to contributors. One of the great advantages of holding the seminar in the United States is the tradition of free expression which this nation represents. Participants feel free to reveal the institutional problems and social pressures which control many policy decisions, creating a dynamic for open exchange unequaled in a more constrained atmosphere.

    Each participant offers a presentation to the group during the course of the seminar to describe the environmental conditions and the structure of the forestry sector where they live. Individual presentations are followed by intentionally designed discussion sessions to explore the issues raised in greater depth, and to identify the major concerns and management opportunities common to the group. Presentations also serve to introduce participants to one another, providing insight to the factors affecting the forestry operations of each country.

    Since forest management programs are complex in scope, the seminar devotes several sessions to the refinement of administrative skills. Participants become familiar with procedures to generate greater participation in decision making, the components of strategic planning, and techniques to manage conflict and competing interests. At the same time the seminar looks at the factors which allow for coherent and responsive administrative operations, examining functions such as training, supervision, incentive systems, accountability and communications.

    For several days each year the seminar stops in Washington, D.C., to meet with leaders from national and international agencies with programs in forest management. Panel discussions with members of multilateral organizations, international non-governmental organizations, and agencies of the United Nations create vigorous and insightful interchanges on the direction of global forest policies. The major international programs which provide assistance to foresters in developing countries are reviewed and evaluated, with progress reports on such major initiatives as the National Environmental Action Programme of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization or US Peace Corps outreach in developmental support in the poorest countries of the world.

    Each curriculum element in the seminar is carefully evaluated by both the seminar staff and participants to ascertain its utility in meeting course objectives. Participants measure the quality and relevance of each presentation through a series of evaluation instruments designed by the University of Michigan faculty. Modifications in the course content have been made through the years to respond to the changing needs of the visiting forest managers, and to insure the most interactive and fulfilling experience for seminar participants.

    The seminar creates more than just a new set of skills, one of its most important products may well be the international good will generated by the close communication and the common experience. The value of the new relationships created by the seminar is immeasurable. It underscores our growing interdependence, providing encouragement for all those touched by the seminar to undertake with renewed energy the difficult tasks in managing the world's forests.

    If you would like additional information, telephone or write John Witherspoon at 313.47.4337 or Paul Nowak at 313.763.1312 in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.