Every 4-5 years, the International Union of Forest Research Organization (IUFRO) is holding a major congress (the last one took place in Salt Lake City in 2014). And for their 125th Anniversary, it is no surprise that IUFRO shortened this time-frame in order to celebrate the organization with an extraordinary Congress that took place in Freiburg from September 18th to 22nd.

General Overview

The IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress was one of the biggest conferences on forest research and practice in the past years. The aim of the congress was to have an opportunity to reflect on IUFRO’s past achievements, emphasize its pivotal role in providing the scientific basis for policy-making on all levels, strengthen partnerships with their stakeholders, and connect to other sectors such as water, agriculture and energy. These aims were tried to be addressed in a variety of different sessions throughout a broad scientific program, divided into themes ranging from Social Forestry over Forest Operations Engineering and Forest Policy and Economics, to Soil and Water Interactions with Forests.

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IFSA Contribution

The congress was not only an exceptional event in terms of its scale but also due to the presence that youth took in organizing and facilitating parts of the congress program; IFSA alone did send 25 delegates. Below the IFSA (co-)organized session are listed:

  • Workshops:
    • “Getting Published in the Changing Science Landscape”, held by the Publications Sub-Commission under the coordination of Meike Siegner (Germany/Canada). 
    • “Forest Governance – a case study of tropical timber trade between Europe and Colombia”, organized by the IFSA-IUFRO Joint Task Force on Forest Education with the coordinators Magdalena Lackner (Austria, IFSA side) and Sandra Rodriguez Pineros (Colombia/Mexico, IUFRO side)
  • Joint Task Force Business Meeting where the work done by the JTF was reflected upon and an outlook for the future was deliberated on
  • Technical Session “Forest Education, organized by the IFSA-IUFRO Joint Task Force on Forest Education with talks from forest scientists and educators about best practices, experiences and perspectives of forest education
  • IFSA Youth Incubator Session, a series of TED talks by IFSA members and young professionals about their research projects, organized by the IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress Commission under the Coordination of Dylan Goff (Ireland/Austria). To have more information about it, a report about this session in particular was published in the last Tree News Special Issue on the IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress, https://blogifsa.wordpress.com/category/future-of-our-forests-special-issue/
  • IFSA Sub-Plenary Session “Our Future Forests”, probably the most impactful and significant event with IFSA contribution at the Congress. The session was organized by Dylan Goff and moderated by Salina Abraham and consisted of a diverse round of panelists representing industry, education, forest and climate change and the definition of forest. For the discussion, IFSA members from around the world were connected via video call. IUFRO president Mike Wingfield served in a double function as introductory speaker of the session and as panelist representing the topic “definition of forestry”. Anyone who wants to relive this session can see the livestream recording, available on the Congress Website; link: http://iufro2017.com/livest
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Another highlight of youth being represented at the congress was Salina Abraham’s participation as a panelist in the Science Meets Stakeholders panel discussion, through which it was shown once again what an important role IFSA fulfils for IUFRO, being one of their five major stakeholders. Generally, it was noticeable that a higher inclusion of youth, whether in scientific research or more importantly deliberations on the future practices in forestry and forest related fields, is more than welcome in global forest research and practitioner community.

Mentorship Program

The IFSA-IUFRO Mentorship Program presented another building block of youth engagement during the congress. Building on the established success of Youth in Landscapes Initiative mentoring program, IFSA launched the first IFSA-IUFRO mentoring program at the Congress. This program offered young congress participants the opportunity to be partnered with and mentored by senior researchers and forest professionals for the duration of the congress, with the aim of fostering networking, intergenerational knowledge exchange and professional development for young and emerging forest researchers.

A total of 69 mentors were strategically matched with 73 mentees, and introduced via email prior to the congress. A team of dedicated IFSA volunteers spent hours “match-making”, working through applicants and partnering mentoring pairs based on their interests, backgrounds and preferred congress theme. Reflecting the diversity at the congress, the mentees and mentors represented a total of 51 countries, and had interests spanning all congress themes, from dendrochronology and remote sensing, to biodiversity conservation and international forest policy.

The program was designed to be flexible and open to suit participants’ needs; yet designed to encourage mentors and mentees to attend at least one session together, to share their ideas and knowledge, and, for mentors, to support their mentee in networking and active engagement in congress proceedings.

I really felt taken care of, being valued as a young researcher I gained more confidence” (Chih-Ching Lan, female, The Netherlands)

However, mentoring is a two-way street, with mentor’s expressing how their participation in this program emphasized the importance of engaging with younger researchers. Many mentoring pairs indicated their plan to stay in touch and continue their mentoring relationship well beyond the congress, and the IFSA mentorship team will be following up with them as they go.

  • For more information, or if you are interested in coordinating a mentoring program at a conference or event, please contact the IFSA-IUFRO Congress mentoring coordinator Sarah Dickson-Hoyle.

Since each IFSA delegate had their own distinct program during the congress it is difficult to give a general conclusion, but I am sure everybody who was there will agree that it was a great experience with high value in supplementary education, networking and personal development.

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About the writers :

Konstantin Schwarz is currently working as IFSA Liaison Officer for IUFRO and he is also a member of IFSA LC Freiburg (Germany). He can be contacted at [email protected].

Sarah Dickson-Hoyle (Australia) was a former IFSA Liaison Officer for CIFOR and at IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress 2017, she was the coordinator for IFSA-IUFRO Mentorship Program. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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