Click here to download a pdf of this article
The Current State of Affairs
In case you hadn’t noticed, the country is now officially mired in the worst housing slump in many years. Not surprisingly, lumber markets are in the tank. Even the optimists I know don’t expect much improvement until mid-2008. My pessimist friends say prices for structural lumber won’t recover until sometime in 2009. This is not good news if you are an iron peddler or among the legions who sell computer software and other business services to the west’s sawmilling and logging industries.
My weather vane is Evergreen, the forestry magazine I’ve been publishing for the non-profit Evergreen Foundation for the last 22 years. Measured in terms of tax deductible contributions, this is by far the worst year in our history and the first one in which we will not publish a single edition. Suffice it to say, we’re hoping lumber markets improve sooner rather than later.
All of this has me thinking that there must be a better, or at least more effi- cient, way to be in the forestry education business. Publishing a magazine of Evergreen’s quality is very expensive, reason enough for us to consider other content distribution venues that don’t involve skyrocketing printing and postage costs like blogs and other web-based tools that are all the rage today, especially with young people for whom saving the planet has become an obsession, if not a way of life.
But the other equally compelling reason for us to embrace new content distribution systems is this: where once we reached thousands by mail every month or so, today’s technologies make it possible for us to reach millions at the speed of light with the click of a mouse key. This means we can deliver the same high quality news, analysis, and perspective to our readers for a fraction of current costs.
I know very little about blogging, but its breathtaking power to force unexpected change was recently brought to my attention by Tammy Johnson, a Montana friend who’s spent a great deal of time researching their structure and effectiveness. Remember when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott abruptly resigned his Senate seat after being forced to admit that he’d made racial slurs at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party? It was a blogger at www.talkingpointsmemo.com who broke the story, which was eventually picked up by the New York Times a first in the short, but eye-opening, history of blogging.
Major newspapers follow blogs today in the same way they once employed tipsters. If a news editor sees the same Internet rumor often enough, he [or she] figures they’ve got a story in the works, sometimes a big one as in the case of Senator Lott’s fall from power. 80,000 new blogs are created daily. No wonder so many news editors now monitor blogs for rumors, story ideas, or brewing controversy. If you are following the presidential campaign [I am not] you know that all of the major Republican and Democrat candidates have blogs and you know that Barack Obama is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money that no one thought possible. Credit his blog, which has proven to be a very powerful fundraising tool. I’m told that Democrats are a lot more blog-savvy than Republicans, who tend to rely on junk mail to carry their message to would-be voters. It isn’t working.
Tammy’s recent 62-hour search of the Worldwide Web turned up the startling (if not humiliating) fact that of the 110 million known blogs, none present a pro-forestry point of view; not one. Frankly, I’m not surprised. Where forestry education is concerned the timber industry has been a day late and a dollar short for as long as I can remember; at least 25 years.
To increase funding, perhaps Evergreen should broaden its scope reporting on issues and events that are impacting other resource-based industries: mining, energy, water, and agriculture. Then again, maybe we should simply offer pre-packaged news and editorial content to other industry-related publications.
Or perhaps it’s time for a completely new approach. I’m intrigued by the power of blogs that challenge students to think less emotionally and more seriously about protecting the environment: wood as a renewable energy source, bio-chemicals as bio-degradable substitutes for chemicals derived from fossil fuels, carbon sequestration in managed forests, increasing wood use as a strategy for conserving energy while also improving air and water quality, and forestry as a tool for protecting or creating wildlife habitat. I have an ulterior motive here: I want young people who are truly concerned about the planet to consider careers in logging, forestry, and sawmilling. Sound ridiculous? Not to me. Name me a service more green than growing trees or a product more green than wood. I’ll spare you the agony. There aren’t any.
The members of the Pacific Logging Congress share my interest in using the web’s many venues including blogs to tell forestry’s great story to younger, more actively engaged audiences. I know this because I was their president this year. How we raise the money to make this work remains to be seen, but somehow this conversation with the nation’s youth has to get started soon or there won’t be a next generation of loggers, sawmill workers, truckers, foresters, bean counters, or engineers.
And I need not remind readers of this magazine that when we lose the capacity to manage forests, nature does it for us. So far, the public hasn’t much cared for the result.
Jim Petersen is the executive director of the non-profit Evergreen Foundation and publisher of Evergreen Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org