Click here to download a pdf of this article

If we don’t sing our own praises, who will?
Simple ways to promote our industry

by Serena Carlson

Communication is one of the most important abilities a person can cultivate. Anyone who has ever tried to argue one side of a debate, explain the nuances of a complex issue to a teenager, or even talk to an angry spouse can appreciate the importance of good communication skills (and can also attest to the consequences of poor communication skills).

In the timber industry, proper communication is vital. With so much misinformation already floating around (much of it gleefully disseminated as fact by those who oppose forest management) there exists a glaring need for education. Who better to educate the public on forestry issues than professional foresters, timberland managers, loggers, and tree farmers?

Timber industry folks are intelligent and credible. They have vast amounts of silvicultural knowledge, and they are not afraid to share their wisdom and experience with others.

It seems like a no-brainer, but there’s a glitch in the logic.
Almost without exception, people choose to enter the timber industry in the first place because they prefer crowds of trees to crowds of people. This is understandable, but unfortunately, this means that our industry’s best and brightest spokespeople are only comfortable speaking about the industry at industry gatherings. We are, in effect, preaching to the choir.

This does not get to the heart of what we as an industry need to do to be able to show what a good, efficient, sustainable, and green industry we truly are.

No one enjoys the thought of public speaking. No one wants to look uneducated, or be asked a question they can’t answer. No one wants to get nervous.

But the fact of the matter is this: the timber industry is full of people who are whip-smart and have good messages to spread. If you know your subject matter, as most of us do inside and out, nervousness is not a problem.

The challenge lies not in defending our industry, as that is a monumental task. Rather, it lies in all of us to find the will to seek a broader audience. Do not think of this as public speaking — it’s not nearly that intimidating or complicated. Here are some of the easiest ways to spread the message of good, sound forest management and renewable forest products:

Give a good talk — over and over and over.
If you gave a good talk about habitat conservation at a local foresters’ meeting, call your local hunting clubs and offer to give the same talk to them.

Same thing if you know something about watershed restoration — call the local fishing group. If you have something to say about trail maintenance, call your local off-road clubs or Backcountry Horsemen chapter. Groups such as these are always looking for someone to add to the agenda.

Don’t call the Sierra Club or Greenpeace — you aren’t going to meet a receptive audience there, and you aren’t going to change anyone’s mind, so don’t even waste your time. Groups who actually spend time outdoors are likely to already know something about forest management, and they will appreciate your efforts in coming to them.

Write a letter
If there is a pertinent forest management issue that has been in your local press, comment on it! For example, if your local paper writes an unfavorable story about a proposed clearcut outside of town, don’t complain to your coworkers about how unfair that story is — write a letter to the editor and explain why that unit needs that treatment. Virtually every newspaper accepts emailed letters to the editor, so it does not take a lot of time or effort to do this.

Keep your cool, be factual, and write to a grade school reading level. Don’t use words that average people don’t understand. Phrases such as “stand harvest” and “prescribed treatment” mean nothing to people outside of the timber industry. Be passionate about your response, share your knowledge, and keep it short (250 words or less).

You will be surprised at how willing most papers are to share the other side of the story — and how many people you reach.

Talk to your neighbors if they ask about what “carbon sequestration” means. Talk to the lady in the Home Depot check-out line if she asks why 2x4s cost so much. Talk to the teenagers who want to know if logging is like the “Ax Men” television show. If you find yourself camping in a wilderness area with anti-loggers, explain what spruce budworm is and why the area burned mostly to a crisp the previous year. Grab every opportunity you can to explain to people that our industry is good, it is green, our resources are renewable, and what we do on the ground is good for the forests, fish, wildlife, clean air, fresh water, fire mitigation, community protection, and rural economies.

Forestry and timber have a great story to tell. Our industry is full of good, accomplished people who, virtually without exception, do not believe in tooting our own horns. The problem with this humility is, if we don’t sing our own praises, who will?

Serena Carlson is the Communications Program Manager for the Intermountain Forest Association in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.