Contributing to the conservation of tropical forests, and protecting livelihoods and ecosystems
Key to tropical forest conservation is identification of the relevant agents, drivers, and actions that need to be aligned if conservation efforts are likely to result in the behavioral changes that keep forests standing, ecosystems functioning, and biodiversity intact.
Jack Putz, a Senior Associate at CIFOR, explains that tropical forest conservation is best promoted by people from the countries that host those forests, and stresses the importance of local capacity building.
Jack is a Distinguished Professor of Biology and Forestry at the University of Florida (UF). Other than full-time periods with CIFOR in 1994 and 1998, he has been on the UF faculty since 1982. His research focuses on conservation in forests actively managed for timber. Whether in the Amazonian lowlands, the hill forests of Southeast Asia, or the pine savannas of Florida, he strives to assure that ecosystems provide incomes to local people while their species, biological communities, and ecosystem functions are maintained. To promote forest conservation through sustainable utilization he focuses on economic mechanisms for rewarding good management, including both forest-based carbon offsets and forest product certification. He received his undergraduate degree in education from the University of Wisconsin in 1973 and his Ph.D. in tropical ecology from Cornell University in 1982. Since then he has been a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Tropical Forestry Institute at Oxford University, a Bullard Fellow at Harvard University, the Prince Bernhard Professor of Conservation at Utrecht University, a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa, and a Jefferson Fellow with USAID in Washington. He teaches tropical forestry, botany, plant ecology, and the ecosystems of Florida. Along the way he has published more than 300 research articles, essays, and reviews, and also popular magazine and newspaper articles on conservation issues, several plays, and a steamy jungle novel entitled “Borneo Dammed: A Very Family Affair” under the nom de plume of Juan Camilo Moro.
In conversation with Jack Putz
What was the main focus of your work when you were at CIFOR?My work focuses on tropical forest conservation through sustainable use. From my base at CIFOR, I was at the forefront of market-based conservation initiatives such as carbon offsets to mitigate global climate change and certification of products from responsibly managed forests.
How have your research and activities paved the way for future forestry-related developments and research?Since leaving CIFOR, I continued to research market-based incentives for tropical forest conservation but gradually began to dedicate more effort to promoting the intrinsic values of tropical forests, with their staggeringly diverse biological diversities and their critical ecosystem functions. I also continue to act on the belief that tropical forest conservation is best promoted by people from the countries that host those forests, and thus dedicate a great deal of time to local capacity building. To that end, every year I participate in at least one field course in a tropical country during which local researchers hone their skills at hypothesis formulation, experimental design, data collection, and manuscript preparation. These are all described in a recent publication of which I am very proud - An experiential, adaptive, inexpensive, and opportunistic approach to research capacity building in the tropics.
If you could choose one piece of work that would be the highlight of the research you did at CIFOR, what would it be? Why is it a highlight?My work on reduced-impact logging (RIL), on which I focused while at CIFOR, formed the basis for a burgeoning field of research and remains a viable way to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. Forging the link between forest management practices and global climates represented a novel aspect of this work.
What future challenges related to your research area do you foresee? How does your research address these challenges?Researchers who advocate for tropical forests need to confront the reality that despite their efforts, conservation is not happening in many places where they wanted it to happen. Rather than be depressed by this realization, they need to be galvanized to seek out even small-scale successes, figure out what worked, why, and for whom, and then try to scale up the effective parts. More broadly, to avoid continued failure, conservation-motivated researchers need to work closely with interdisciplinary and very local teams to develop really detailed theories-of-change that specify all the relevant agents, drivers, and actions that need to be aligned if the intervention is likely to result in the behavioral changes that keep forests standing, ecosystems functioning, and biodiversity intact.
Why do you think that the work CIFOR does on forestry is key for the future of our planet and the people living on it?The intensely interdisciplinary approach to problem solving advocated and utilized by CIFOR continues to set a very high standard for research in the tropics.