New Technology Coming to the FirelineTime to Create and Tell Our Story

By Jack Petree

Two elements are needed if a story is to have an impact capable of bringing about true change — a great story line and a receptive audience. In 2018 the Western forest products industry has that great story and, for the first time in a long time, a potentially receptive audience.

Twenty-five Years Ago

Twenty-five years ago, the Clinton Forest Summit legitimized a decades-long assault on the forest industry, presaging an era of turmoil and decline. Today the public may be ready for serious change, ready once again for the forest products industry to claim its place at the forefront of initiatives to preserve healthy forests, clean water, outdoor recreation, and atmospheric carbon reductions. But the public will only respond if we tell our story well; a story well-crafted to inform a public that doesn’t think in the traditional paradigms we’ve based too much of our conversation on in the past.

I attended and reported on the Clinton summit all those years ago. The story told then, to a receptive public, was all about fish habitat and spotted owls; harvest for forest health was given short shrift. The clear message coming out of the summit proclaimed the need to drastically suppress harvest; to save the nation’s forests from rapacious predators carrying chain saws; forest health could only be preserved through the cessation of most harvest.

Twenty-five Years Later

The problem? The nation’s forests were not any more healthy in 1993 than they are in 2018. The catastrophic fires seen in recent times not only destroy lives and livelihoods, they release massive quantities of greenhouse gasses, toxic elements, and breathtaking (literally and figuratively) volumes of smoke into the atmosphere.

The message we bring to the public now should address three important elements: the true nature of the original forest, the havoc caused by catastrophic fire (especially in environmental terms), and the ability of the forest products industry to make a difference, to reduce fire intensity, enhance the environment, and improve forest habitat and functionality through carefully thought out and controlled harvest combined with natural processes, including fire.

Original Forest

It is important the forest industry pay much more attention to the character of the original forest than it ever has in the past. To the public, the idea of “recreating a healthy forest” can be the lynchpin necessary for acceptance of any message the industry might bring forward.

In the 1850s a remarkable series of scientific expeditions was sent by then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to ascertain the best route for a transcontinental railroad. The expeditions documented the flora and fauna along the routes they followed and left behind a copious volume of information that can be mined today.

In the last three years of the 1800s, the United States Geological Survey undertook a section-by-section survey of the forests that would ultimately become the West’s national parks and national forests, leaving behind a huge written and pictorial record of the forests. The forest service has produced numerous records since comparing the forests of yesteryear and those of today, especially through the use of then-and-now photography. And the list goes on.

Creating a Narrative

The creation of a historical narrative, meaningful to citizens of today, is vital because the widespread perception of the nature of the original forest, by even those supporting the forest industry, does not comport with reality. Much of the opposition to harvest has come from an effort to recreate what never existed in the first place. That must change if the industry, and the forests, are to become healthy again.

In recent years a considerable amount of academic research has demonstrated that the forest fires we’ve seen recently are incredibly negative in environmental terms; in sum, fires today emit more toxic chemicals and greenhouse gasses each year than all the vehicles in California emit in an entire year. Those emissions need to be documented and widely reported; the public must come to understand that harvest for forest health is one of the most important tools in the nation’s arsenal when it comes to forest health enhancement and greenhouse gas reductions.

Third, the industry needs to develop a scientifically defensible, easily understandable, and unified message about its importance to the health of the nation’s forests for delivery to the public. The history is there, the science is there, and the ability to act is there but, the industry has never, at least to my knowledge, developed an effective message most industry participants can agree on. It’s time to develop and send that message.

Last, no message can be delivered absent someone to deliver that message. Once a message is developed through a collaborative process, the industry needs to encourage every single industry participant to learn about the message and deliver the message whenever possible.

The forest products industry will probably always exist. Whether the future is one of health and vitality or one of long, drawn out decline, depends on what we do today.

Jack Petree is a writer, public policy researcher, and owner of Tradeworld Communications.


TimberWest November/December 2013
September/October 2018

On the Cover
Photo taken by Andrea Watts of a Holbrook Inc. operation near Electron, Washington.

Finding Success in Challenging Times
In 2007, as the country entered the recession, Seth Campbell was fixing his eyes on a future for himself, his family and his crew.

From the Bottom Up
Chris Martin, owner of Martin Timber Harvesting, has taken the bull by the horns and set a standard of excellence.

It’s the Employees
For Holbrook Inc., success has come from the sum of its employees who have kept the company harvesting and moving logs for more than 30 years.

New Study Points to Ways Loggers Can Minimize Knee, Back and Shoulder Injuries
New manual with best practices focusses on preventable injuries in the logging industry.

2018 CBI & Ecotec Factory Forum
The three-day event was an opportunity for the company’s U.S. and international customers to see live machine demonstrations.

Firebreak Column
New technology coming to the fireline.

Pacific Logging Congress review
The 8th PLC Live In-Woods show held in September in Corvallis, Oregon, provided a chance to educate and for industry professionals to show off.

Tech Review — Bar, Chain and Sprocket
A look at options on the market today.

Guest Column
Time to create and tell our story.


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