The 25th Annual ISTF Conference took place January 31-February 2, 2019 at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (New Haven, CT, USA).
Examining Tropical Changes: Resilience in the Context of Disturbance and Transgression
Tropical forests and their people are experiencing disturbances and transgressions at unprecedented scales, raising new questions about the resilience of these socio-ecological systems. Overexploitation of tropical forests transgresses national and international laws, often trespassing on the rights of indigenous and local communities whose lifeways depend on these landscapes. Intensifying anthropogenic activities are changing climates, altering natural disturbance regimes, and pushing tropical ecosystems close to their ecological limits. In spite of these pressures, will tropical systems continue to support biodiversity and human communities, contributing to the resilience of the planet as a whole?
For both forests and people, resilience pertains to the ability to respond to and recover from stressful events. The concept of resilience has evolved in recent years, as new ideas emerge about what enables tropical forests and peoples to recover and persist. Similarly, the notion of disturbance has also changed, as ‘disturbance’ implies deviation from a pattern, but scholars now recognize that some perturbations might be inherent to tropical ecosystems. Transgressions challenge borders and boundaries–real and imagined–and put pressure on forest resources and communities. Resilience of tropical forest systems decline under mounting ecological and anthropogenic pressures, as reflected in declining recovery rates from perturbations and increasing displacement of frontline communities. Global efforts have been dedicated to preventing, mitigating and bringing attention to problems within tropical systems. There is also much to be learned from how tropical forests and local peoples cope with and recover from disturbances and transgressions.
The recent IPCC report demonstrates that environmental disruption is increasingly becoming our reality. Floods, droughts, landslides, and fires, along with deforestation, degradation, and fragmentation, challenge the survival of tropical forests and their people. Last year, tropical forests suffered the second-worst tree cover loss on record (WRI 2018). Tropical forest loss is contributing to climate change; and, at the same time, increasing climate changes is fuel further forest loss. The 2018 IPCC report raises crucial questions about how people and ecosystems respond to change: How are tropical forest ecosystems changing? What kinds of perturbations are most important? What can we learn from disturbance? What do transgressions look like in a rapidly changing world? How do practices of indigenous people and local communities approach adaptation? What makes some tropical systems—forests and their people—more resilient than others in the face of massive alterations? How does the political-economic order respond to these perturbations? Which communities, human and ecological, are most affected? How can research and practice unsettle traditional understandings of disturbance, resilience and transgression? This conference will be a time to reimagine processes of change.
Over the last 25 years, many mechanisms and tools have emerged to identify threats and increase resilience in tropical forests, yet the competing pressures on forests have not been reconciled. As climate change disturbances and human transgressions continue to worsen, actions and solutions must be delivered at a much faster pace. Since 1994, the Yale Chapter ISTF annual conferences have addressed global priorities including illegal logging, conservation finance, conflict and cooperation, landscape-scale restoration, ecotourism, certification schemes, food, and biodiversity. The 25th Annual Yale ISTF Conference will demand reflection on past lessons while envisioning the next 25 years of tropical forestry in a rapidly changing world.
Understanding where we have failed, where we have succeeded, and how we should move forward is essential. For the 2019 ISTF Conference, we invite academics, practitioners, policy-makers, activists and forest-dwelling peoples to share the challenges and opportunities in tropical forest landscapes and the perseverance of these complex networks in the face of global disturbances and transgressions.