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Industry challenge: heed public perceptions.

Not long ago, AFA past president R. Scott Wallinger the keynote speech at the American Pulpwood Association's annual meeting. In that speech, Scott, senior vice president for Westvaco Corporation, ranged over a broad menu of topics of vital interest to the people who harvest and process wood, and he urged the industry to develop a wider range of approaches to timber harvesting and forest management.

His challenge comes from inside the forest-products industry, from a leader who knows the importance of keeping logs in the mills, workers safe, and profits flowing. But it also shows a deep concern within all of us who deal with forests about the increasingly polarized world that surrounds forestry today. New ideas, a broader spectrum of management strategies, and a better balance among the multiple values that flow from forests are essential.

We at AFA are proud to be associated with leaders like Scott Wallinger, whose statesmanship in forest conservation reinforces our conviction that through the full cooperation of everyone who loves trees and forests, we can find that new balance that will meet both the environmental and economic needs of people. We're glad to devote this issue's editorial space to excerpts from his APA speech. -R. NEIL SAMPSON, Executive Vice President, AFA

There's nothing wrong with clearcutting. It's a perfectly sound system of harvesting and regenerating trees that doesn't have to be defended on silvicultural grounds. But accompanying the trend toward clearcutting has been a visible emphasis on "tree farming" in contrast to "forestry." I place those two terms in quotes to suggest that people are beginning to see a difference between them.

To many people, tree farming has come to mean clearcutting followed by rows upon rows of conifers grown with genetics and cultivation and pesticides for purely economic purposes ... and that, to much of the public today, is not synonymous with what forestry is all about.

Society is on an opposite course. We are a thoroughly urban and suburban society in which only a handful of people work on farms or in forests. People know they depend on forest products but perceive no shortage of wood or fiber.

Every day people see news stories about endangered species, polluted estuaries, the demise of ancient forests, global warming, greenhouse effect-and those issues are often defined in terms of forest cutting or unacceptable forestry practices.

More than half of rural landowners are not farmers, and year by year more of them have priorities other than timber production. When they do sell timber, they are highly entrepreneurial, but they insist that values beyond timber be recognized, accepted, and protected.

When I visit our cooperating landowners in the field, the plea I hear like a broken record is: "Please develop better ways to selectively cut our forest and not just clearcut big blocks. " Many would offer a lot more wood to the market if they knew it would be cut by some other means. Clearcutting is acceptable to them in many circumstances, but they want other approaches, too-that's my point.

Some company foresters who have worked long and hard in support of the Tree Farm program wonder whether this is a program we should embrace ardently because it identifies us with a winning image in the public mind or whether we should seek to differentiate ourselves from it as too commercial in its perception.

In spite of these concerns, we have had going for us the fact that we used mostly softwoods that could be visibly replaced by planting. Our industry can say with pride that we replant our own land and much of the private land we harvest, accounting for more than two billion seedlings annually.

But as our industry places growing emphasis on hardwoods, especially upland hardwoods in the South, for which replanting isn't normal practice, there is potential for new conflicts between our industry and those who speak for wildlife, recreation, and other nontimber values.

Yet I see no sign of industry concern about how to address the public concerns that will surely arise. It isn't a case of clearcutting itself being inappropriate. But what alternatives in cutting practices do we offer landowners and the public? And what are we doing to communicate with them?

What is changing rapidly is not the validity of forest practices but the values most of the public uses to judge them. Values held by many landowners-and the public-weigh heavily in favor of forest attributes other than harvesting and forestry for primarily economic reasons. Probably most of the public accepts fiber farming as reasonable and legitimate on industrial lands owned for that purpose. But I think landowners and the public question the forest-management options we offer for public and other private land.

In reality, three kinds of forestry may be emerging: private, public, and industrial. Unless we recognize the distinct differences between them and devise approaches to satisfy each, we run the strong risk of losing large potential volumes of wood from private and public sectors. Again, it's a matter of alternatives and balance.

If we want public support for harvesting trees in this new arena, I suggest we thoughtfully reexamine the kinds of harvest options we offer private landowners on their land and the public on public land. And we should do so with the same intensity that we did in the 1960s and 70s when we saw the need to mechanize.

We must do much more than just defend clearcutting or defend the right to harvest timber on public land. We can defend our values, but if that's all we do, we will surely suffer. Our industry's challenge centers on economics. We tend to ignore it by saying that other harvesting systems cost more and we can't afford them, or that landowners must accept lower values for wood cut in other ways and they won't. But we cannot afford to ignore this subject! As wood consumption grows and public attitudes continue to change, we will keep our wood supply in balance only on landowners' and public terms.

We are excited because we have pooled resources in a nationwide coalition, the American Forest Resource Alliance, and taken on the opposition. But our primary tactic is a more vigorous defense of positions the public already resists.

Such new tactics are useful if the effort buys time to carefully devise new strategies. But if we don't address the underlying issues, we will find ourselves still alone on the balance scale when our war chest runs out.

Those who fight our battles will have a better chance to succeed if we give them new weapons, not just more ammunition.


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Title Annotation:forest products industry
Author:Wallinger, R. Scott
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:One man's preserve.
Next Article:The Jentsch bequest: a gift that keeps giving.

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