Reflections on earlier ISTF contributions

Patrick Durst

ISTF has always emphasized the dissemination of solid scientific information on tropical forest management to practitioners and policymakers. I first became aware of ISTF around 1980, about the time I was finishing work as an agroforestry extensionist with the U.S. Peace Corps in the Philippines. These were “Pre-Internet” days and the ISTF newsletter was one of the few consistent and reliable sources of information available on tropical forestry for those of us without regular access to a major library.

The quarterly ISTF News – published in English, Spanish and French – included timely information on meetings, events, grants and fellowships, and major developments in tropical forestry. It also provided extremely valuable summaries of research literature, regularly compiled by Frank Wadsworth, the newsletter editor. I considered ISTF News and, later, the ITTO Tropical Forest Update to be the two best sources of current information on tropical forestry for most of the 1980s and 1990s, and I generally read every word of each issue of ISTF News.

When I was still working with the USDA Forest Service, I always thought that Frank Wadsworth’s task of compiling literature summaries for ISTF News would be one of the most enjoyable tasks that anyone could be assigned, and I hinted that when Frank retired, I’d be willing to take over.  Luckily for everyone, Frank continued summarizing literature for years and years after that, even after his “retirement” from the Forest Service. I say “luckily” because Frank remained a master in his ability to capture the key elements of any article or publication – far better than I ever could have managed.

During the years I worked in Washington, DC (1988-1993), ISTF held office on the third floor of the historic “Wild Acres” headquarters building of the Society of American Foresters, on Grosvenor Lane, in Bethesda, Maryland. ISTF President, Warren Doolittle, was particularly skillful at co-opting volunteers and committee members, and on any given Wednesday (ISTF “Volunteer Day”), visitors would be likely to meet Warren and other “walking encyclopedias” of tropical forestry at the ISTF office, including the likes of Gordon Fox, Elbert Little, and later, Tom Geary and Les Whitmore. As a young-ish tropical forester at the time, it was always a great pleasure for me to visit ISTF and soak up some of that incredible knowledge, experience, and advice.

In addition to regular publishing of ISTF News, ISTF also distributed thousands of publications upon request of members, including those serving as a regular distribution node for FAO and USDA Forest Service publications. ISTF also organized and co-sponsored various events around the world, helping to bring current information to the doorsteps of forestry practitioners.

After I joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I recognized more than ever the value of ISTF News and other current information to practitioners working in the field. It gave me considerable satisfaction to provide ISTF “gift memberships” to various colleagues from many developing countries. If I remember correctly, dues back then were just $5 USD for members of developing countries, and the gift memberships were money extremely well spent in helping struggling tropical forestry practitioners – hungry for information – to keep up with current developments and learn from others’ experiences.

Since those days, the Internet has put countless pages of information readily available at nearly everyone’s fingertips. Now, the challenge is not how to access information, but rather how to sift through and find what is practical, relevant, and useful. In this respect, I believe the “new ISTF” has clear roles to play in creatively helping members obtain the most relevant information for improving tropical forest management and facilitating the sharing of knowledge and experiences related to real-world forest management challenges.

Author: Patrick Durst, Independent Consultant, Bangkok, Thailand