Reflections of a programme manager on the end of ENPI-FLEG

Richard Aishton, Senior Programme Manager, ENPI/FLEG Programme reflects on the accomplishments of the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument East Countries Forest Law Enforcement and Governance Program (ENPI-FLEG, or simply FLEG) over the past seven years. The programme has made many notable accomplishments and achieved progress beyond expectations in the forestry sectors of the seven countries in which it worked. 

Photo: IUCN / FLEG

At the close of 2016, FLEG will be finishing up its work after seven years and two programme phases. Looking back to January 2009, I recall when the first Programme Implementation Framework was distributed to signal the beginning of FLEG. In 2009, I had no idea that I would look back on the two phases of FLEG and reflect on what a remarkable programme it turned out to be. In the beginning, FLEG partners – The World Bank, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and IUCN – established working relationships that would benefit the programme. The key to the success of the IUCN component of FLEG was locating and hiring a group of people from seven different countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine – who would quickly exert their personalities and expertise to move this programme in a way that was difficult to believe, and a wonder to behold. The programme that started out with some difficultly found its way late in its first year. 

The region represented by FLEG contains nearly 30% of the forest on the planet. Twenty-five percent of the freshwater not locked up in ice is situated within this region. Two of the planet’s 35 biodiversity hotspots can be found within the region where FLEG is implemented. This huge chunk of boreal and northern temperate forest cannot be ignored for its role in global processes. 

Our Country Program Coordinators (CPCs) challenged the establishment and gained its confidence with transparent practices, honesty and engagement. What first looked like a leaky barge on its way to the bottom of the nearest forested wetland, suddenly began to move with purpose and support. Hard questions were asked and answers demanded – and they were given. FLEG suddenly attracted attention as a programme that would get things done and work with stakeholders and governments to meet common goals. 

As the time approached for the end of FLEG in 2012, the European Commission intervened and proposed a phase II, and FLEG was no longer a barge but a sleek, manoeuvrable craft. 

Moving ahead to the present as I review the impact of IUCN work under FLEG, I am happy to see what our work has accomplished and how we have contributed to the governance of forest resources in Eastern Europe and Russia. Underlying those substantial tangible contributions is the fact that IUCN has built solid and lasting relationships with governments, NGOs and other stakeholders that form a network of important links and connections critical to managing the valuable forest resources in this vast region. 

IUCN has made exceptional contributions to knowledge and learning in FLEG. A Master’s thesis project completed by the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment documented, through nine successful case studies on IUCN activities, that IUCN has taken on the role of trusted partner and convener in the region. IUCN has also completed extensive quantitative studies on forest dependency that show that rural communities in the ENPI East and Russia region rely heavily on forest income for meeting their needs. One significant result from these studies was the development of the Forest Community Fingerprint (FCF). The FCF is an innovative approach that links ground surveys, satellite imagery, and remote sensing data to create an accurate predictive modelling methodology for vulnerabilities. 

While the successes and impact from IUCN’s FLEG programme is evident and significant, the bittersweet reality is that this programme comes to an end on 31 December 2016 and the end of the programme also means the team that made IUCN’s FLEG programme so successful will be disbanded. I would like to acknowledge the following people for their contribution to taking FLEG from a “leaky barge” to a well-respected and high-profile programme with substantial contributions to forest resource management and governance. The people on this team are not only consummate professionals in their chosen fields; they are my friends and colleagues who have made my job worthwhile in the face of the daily programme management frustrations.  I sincerely thank:

  • Ms. Luba Balyan, IUCN CPC Armenia
  • Dr. Azer Garayev, IUCN CPC Azerbaijan
  • Ms. Marina Belous, IUCN CPC Belarus
  • Ms. Marika Kavtarishvili, IUCN’s FLEG Coordinator, Georgia
  • Dr. Aurel Lozan, IUCN CPC Moldova
  • Dr. Andrey Zaytsev, IUCN CPC Russian Federation
  • Dr. Roman Volosyanchuk, IUCN CPC Ukraine
  • Ms. Ekaterine Otarashvili, FLEG Program Officer, IUCN HQ
  • Ms. Francesca Tagliati, IUCN FLEG Communications Coordinator

While ENPI FLEG would likely have been successful in its own right, these people made the programme exceptional.

In the face of closure, I take solace knowing that there exists a group of people in Eastern Europe and Russia who will continue to influence decisions about climate change, forest resource management, wetlands, ecosystem services and protected areas management, just to name a few.

I will leave the reader with this thought – pay attention to the boreal and northern temperate forests in the world. They are a critical piece in the global struggle to protect natural resources and mitigate climate change.

-Richard Aishton

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