Session 6.1 Politics of knowledge in forest management


Taru Peltola, University of Eastern Finland and Finnish Environment Institute

TA: Louisa


  1. Carlos M. Landivar: Soft system dynamic model of Retention Forestry as sustainable forest management strategy in Black Forest
  2. Manuel John: Reconstructing Retention Forestry: The role of professional epistemologies in forest biodiversity research
  3. Nicole Still: Coupling Forest Values: Reflections on the integration of forest ecosystem services to inform management in the Black Forest
  4. Philipp Mack: Knowledge and forest discourses in changing environments
  5. Maria Ojanen, Maria Brockhaus, Kaisa Korhonen-Kurki, Gillian Petrokofsky: Navigating the science policy interface: forest researcher perspectives

The significance of forests is increasingly debated in the context of pressing global problems. Not only are issues relevant to forest biodiversity addressed but the role of forests in combating climate change has become a key theme. How we manage forest ecosystems in the era of the Anthropocene has become a key question concerning also the fate of humankind. In what ways should our relationship to trees and/or forests change to enable tackling global challenges? This question also brings up the issue of knowledge about forests and the role of professional epistemologies in advising forest-related policies. Forestry and forest management are path-dependent and expert-driven fields of natural resources management. Changing professional cultures are therefore significant drivers towards forest ecosystem management that is sensitive to global problems. Within this context, the panel aims to raise discussion about knowledge in forest management:

  • How do we know forest ecosystems?

  • What kind of knowledge is considered valid and relevant?

  • Who participates in the production of knowledge about forests? How to bring different kind of knowledge together (interdisciplinarity)?

  • How is professional knowledge about forests translated into practice? What determines the policy relevance of knowledge?

  • How to study professional epistemologies and knowledge in forestry?

The panel addresses issues related to the politics of knowledge in forestry and forest management. It also discusses the possibilities to widen ideas about relevant and valid knowledge in forest management and introduce more inclusive approaches to knowledge about forests and changing relationship to them.

Each presenter has max 10 min for presenting. The presentations are followed by a round of reflections from the presenters addressing possibilities for more inclusive and diverse knowledge base in forestry. At the end we will leave the space open for questions and reflections from the audience.


Carlos M. Landivar, Department of biometry and environmental system analysis & ConFoBi RTH, University of Freiburg.

Soft system dynamic model of Retention Forestry as sustainable forest management strategy in Black Forest

Retention Forestry is a recent strategy designed to manage forest in a sustainable way. The goal is to produce timber while enhancing habitat heterogeneity through the conservation of habitat trees’ and deadwood. As similar management approaches, it requires a multidisciplinary team to successfully work at different levels such as design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and adaptation.
Each one of these activities are performed by several interdisciplinary teams playing different roles at each of these levels. Moreover, different institutions (both formal and informal) also play roles at different levels. There the context where such a complex system as a forest management strategy is carried out is composed by a set of actors, institutions and disciplines with several connections among them. The connections among disciplines are often intended as collaborations, information exchange or publication of information or data. Meanwhile the connections among institutions and informal groups might be influence by top-down effect from stronger elements and feedback or demands from other elements
Despite the powerful interconnection among them, not all the actors are aware of each other. There is a lot of information, experiences and knowledge that might be lost, ignored or misunderstood. Therefore, it is difficult to work together in addressing common problems, sharing resources or communicating know-how. It is important to identify the main actors from the involved disciplines and areas and describe the connection among them, to purposeful direct the efforts and available resources into a successful forest management plan


Manuel John, Chair of Sustainability Governance & ConFoBi RTG, University of Freiburg

Reconstructing Retention Forestry: The role of professional epistemologies in forest biodiversity research

Studying forest biodiversity is an interdisciplinary endeavor – not least because the majority of earth’s forests are currently under some sort of management. Far from being the study of natural phenomena exclusively, forest biodiversity research often seeks to further efforts for the maintenance of biodiversity under conditions of the continued use of forests, which includes considering the different ways humans manage or otherwise interact with them.
Retention Forestry is an example of a management approach which attempts to reconcile biodiversity conservation with the economic use of forests, primarily for timber production. From its inception in the pacific Northwest of the US more than thirty years ago, Retention Forestry has been implemented in many regions all over the globe today. At the same time, a growing body of scientific literature has developed, aiming to define and substantiate this approach, to test the effectiveness of measures like the retention of live and dead trees, and to develop it further.
Drawing on insights from Science and Technology Studies, this presentation will retrace the scientific debate around Retention Forestry based on the existing literature. By focusing on the distinct epistemologies of the different fields involved (including specific research foci, theoretical frameworks or methods), it will be possible to highlight how disciplines like forest science or conservation ecology have shaped in different ways how forests are “known”, and potentially also managed and reshaped, as the object of Retention Forestry. Together with a focus on regional particularities, like differences in management regimes, this will help to identify both a common core of Retention Forestry as a scientifically backed-up management practice, and the heterogeneities that characterize it. Understanding these roots will allow for making better sense of Retention Forestry as a current attempt to bridge different understandings of what forests are and should be.


Nicole Still, Chair for Forestry Economics and Forest Planning & ConFoBi RTG, University of Freiburg

Coupling Forest Values: Reflections on the integration of forest ecosystem services to inform management in the Black Forest

Economically viable production has long been the primary aim of forest management globally. However, in recent decades improved ecological understandings, accelerating environmental pressures, and changing social perceptions of forests have challenged the preeminence of production-oriented management. Consequently, policymakers and forest practitioners have been faced with increasing pressure to manage for multiple additional aims including biodiversity conservation, recreational use, human welfare, and resiliency against climate change and environmental disturbances. Within the policy realm, these pressures have been addressed in part by the adoption of the ecosystem services concept into key political documents (e.g. the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, Convention on Biodiversity Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, and IPBES assessments). The ecosystem services framework, which strives to encapsulate the full range of economic, social, and ecological benefits provided by natural ecosystems and biodiversity, originated in research communities in the 1980s and has been studied broadly across several disciplines since. However, despite its prevalence in policy and research realms, the adoption and operationalization of the ecosystem services concept in practice, as well as in some key disciplines that have traditionally informed management, continue to lag.
Recent efforts, founded in a Total Economic Value framework, have aimed to address this lag with an interdisciplinary modelling approach that quantifies and couples the economic, ecological, and social benefits of conservation-oriented retention forestry practices to better inform management in the mixed-use landscapes of the Black Forest of southwestern Germany. (Still et al., in prep.) This presentation will reflect upon the disciplinary assumptions, integrative approaches, findings, and challenges of these efforts. Such reflection, in turn, will offer insights on the remaining barriers to operationalizing the ecosystem services framework in forest management practice through traditional knowledge bases and suggest possible paths forward to address multi-objective management concerns.


Philipp Mack, Chair for Forest and Environmental Policy, University of Freiburg

Knowledge and forest discourses in changing environments

Drought, heat, and related bark beetle outbreaks have impacted the state of German forests in recent years, resulting in challenges for forest management as it is confronted with a variety of ecological changes and societal demands. This situation has led to an increase in forest-related debates in public media and the political domain, illustrating conflicting understandings and interests. Applying a discourse analysis on newspaper articles, my work aims to explore the politicization of natural phenomena through struggles over meanings and ideas. In this context, different systems of knowledge are an important factor influencing the way meaning is ascribed to forests, which in turn, affects the proposed solutions. The analysis, therefore, elaborates on forms of knowledge, among other things, to contextualize the storylines applied by actors in order to display a credible and consistent argumentation. Doing so, it reveals which knowledge is
represented as valid and legitimate in the discourse on German forests. Due to the influence of discourses on political decision-making processes and public opinion, understanding their underlying meanings and ideas is important to address the complexity of dealing with the current challenges.

Maria Ojanen, University of Helsinki

Maria Brockhaus, University of Helsinki

Kaisa Korhonen-Kurki, University of Helsinki

Gillian Petrokofsky, University of Oxford

Navigating the science policy interface: forest researcher perspectives

There is a growing interest – and need – among researchers and research organizations to contribute with societally relevant work as well as to demonstrate the policy impact of their research. Diverse science-policy interfaces (SPIs) aim for scientifically informed policymaking by connecting scientists with policymakers. Effective SPIs need to be grounded in credibility, relevance and legitimacy; at the same time, however, they become part of the complex, politicised web of public policymaking. In this article we examine how forest researchers who participate in diverse SPIs in the context of the Global South navigate this complexity. We apply the concepts of credibility, relevance and legitimacy to explore the barriers and tensions that researchers experience, as well as the strategies that researchers apply when responding to them. The research is based on in-depth interviews with 23 forest researchers and highlights the tensions related to ensuring the continued interest of powerful policy actors, whose benevolence is crucial, particularly for research-led SPIs. Personal and institutional reputation and networks built over the years were perceived to be crucial for fostering credibility and legitimacy, although value- and interest-based contestation of scientific information and expertise emerged in sensitive and controversial policy issues. We also discuss the tensions caused by the need to demonstrate the policy impact of the research. We conclude by highlighting the need to understand power relations in hindering or facilitating effective SPIs.

This is a picture caption @unsplash