Fred Pinto - Forester and Co-Founder of Forests Without Borders
"Trees have always played an important role in all civilizations. " Forester and co-founder of Forests Without Border, Fred Pinto discusses his passion for forestry, and the role of the community in restoring and benefiting from healthy forests.
Photos: Forests Without Borders
Q. 1. Do you have a favourite childhood memory related to trees?
I would go exploring natural areas with my brothers and friends. The trees were always great to climb, search for birds and other animals, or just daydream in.
Q.2. From your perspective, what are the contributions made by trees that make them so important?
Trees have always played an important role in all civilizations. They were used, and still are, for fuel, construction, transport, food, medicine, and clothing. Trees growing in large numbers make up forests that help recharge fresh water aquifers, are home to wildlife, and store large quantities of carbon to name just a few of the ecological services we get and usually take for granted in Canada. We should not forget that settlers removed large areas of forest in southern Ontario causing rivers such as the Grand River to dry up and become prone to flash floods. Many areas also became sandy deserts. Foresters have helped restore the forests in these areas.
Q. 3. What effect does spending time in forests have on you personally?
I am in the forest almost every day. The sun, bird song, and scent of a forest invigorates me and brightens my spirit.
Q. 4. You helped create the organization Forests Without Borders and you are the current Chair of the Board of Trustees. What motivated you to found this organization?
I and other foresters spoke to many people in developing nations about their needs. We found that local people knew how to solve their problems if they could access affordable materials such as water and fuel needed for their daily life.
Q. 5. Forests Without Borders works directly with communities in developing countries to set up projects that support forest restoration and sustainable harvesting of wood. Can you give examples of where the projects have had the most impact?
From a local person’s perspective it is:
a) when they have clean fresh water and wood close to their village, so that women and children do not have to spend many hours each day collecting these items
b) when the air indoors is cleaner with the use of clean-burning wood stoves
c) when they use the money generated to help their vulnerable members
From Forests Without Borders’ perspective it is:
a) when changes in behaviour by the community mean that people do not destroy new forest
b) when children understand the importance of the natural environment for their own well-being
c) when natural ecological services, such as recharged aquifers and wildlife habitat, are restored
Q.6. Many of the Forests Without Borders projects have a self-financing or income-generating aspect to them. Why is this important to their success?
People living in rural communities in developing nations lack money, so we try and meet their need to generate an income. We try and let people see that they can obtain money and restore ecological services that benefit them directly, and that they can continue to have these benefits if they invest some of their returns in their forest and people. We help move them away from the idea that richer people will solve their problems and toward the idea that they can solve their challenges with their own resources.
We have linked some of our projects to schools. We have helped schools set up micro tree nurseries that can serve both an educational need and planting stock to restore forests. The challenge is to get these tree nurseries to become financially viable in regions where people have very limited amounts of money. In other cases, we are helping communities develop tree growing, planting and ecotourism businesses. We want these communities to be able to generate their own money, use the money to grow their forests and help their people.
Q.7. As someone who has travelled extensively around the world studying forests and understanding the state of the forests in various countries, from your perspective what are the major threats facing forests around the world?
There are many threats, but I do not dwell on them. Each region requires its own solution, and this reality needs people to work together. Local people must benefit directly from the resources and participate in controlling their own activities. Many well-intentioned activist groups propose simplistic solutions that criminalize local people in the attempt to “protect a fragile ecosystem.” I have yet to see this strategy work.
Q. 8. In 2011, you were a finalist for a United Nations Forest Hero Award for “volunteer work in forestry and inspiring people.” What motivates you to actively engage with different communities – both in Canada and several developing countries – on forestry issues?
Where there is peace, people and forests can prosper. I have seen well-designed reforestation activities make a difference in people’s lives in a very short time, with very little money, and using local skills that enable people to solve their own health, education, and social problems. The many volunteers in Canada also inspire and motivate me. All of the volunteers spend a considerable amount of their own money and time to ensure our projects are successful.
Q. 9. As a faculty member at the University of Toronto’s Department of Forestry, what advice do you give forestry students about working in the forestry sector, both in Canada and in developing countries?
First, that we are short of licenced professional foresters in Canada. So I tell them to enroll in programs that enable them to become licenced foresters. Then I tell them they are to serve their clients. As our profession considers the long-term impacts of forestry, they have to help their clients figure out trade-offs and revise solutions as social and environmental conditions change. I have seen an interest in forestry change as people in the developing world realize that solutions to water supply, dust storms, agricultural productivity, and other benefits from nature require us to integrate our understanding of ecology with the available technology, human skill, and money.
Q. 10. Finally, do you have a favourite tree species that is native to Ontario? If so, which one and why?
White pine. I worked for the past 25 years on trying to understand its ecology. I used this information to develop forestry practices in Ontario, so that white pine regeneration was more successful. These practices were developed so that the various ecological functions in white pine forests are not degraded after forestry activities. Today these practices have been adopted by most forest managers across the range of white pine in eastern North America.