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Remobilizing for conservation.

This issue marks the start of the 100th year in the life of this magazine, which gives rise to thinking about the past, present, and future. This magazine, and AMERICAN FORESTS as an organization, are deeply rooted in the same soil. It is our hope that this magazine proudly illustrates the principles we stand for and the kinds of actions we encourage all people to take, and that it entertains and educates along the way. But in the final analysis, AMERICAN FORESTS will succeed as a national conservation force, we believe, not because the magazine is enjoyable but because the work we do is important to people like you. This year, 1994, marks an important milestone in our membership approach, and we hope you will enthusiastically endorse it. As most of you who have read this magazine know, AMERICAN FORESTS has over the past five years been undergoing an intensive organizational change process. We've created major new programs in forest policy research, conservation education, and on-the-ground environmental improvement. Most of those programs--with names like Global ReLeaf, Forest Policy Center, Heritage Forests, and Cool Communities--have been funded mainly with the support of grants from federal agencies, foundations, and private companies.

Membership dues have gone almost entirely into support for the magazine and for the services that members need and want. There has never been money left over to fund two things that we feel very strongly should be done: 1) communicating and educating Americans on forest issues, and 2) helping change national policy to better support forest management and conservation. We've supported those elements by trying to raise money here and there, with uneven results. When all else failed, we dipped into our savings to pay for those activities. Nobody can do that for long, and we've had to look for a different way. With your support, 1994 will mark the beginning of that "different way." We're changing our dues structure, and raising our "base dues" from $24 to $30 a year--the first increase of any kind since 1986. In the process, we'll drop the word "subscriber," along with two-year memberships and other features common to magazine subscriptions, and focus more on "membership." We don't want to be known as a magazine publisher--we want to be more effective as a conservation organization. We're grateful if you read and enjoy this magazine, but we need you to do more. We need you to join our conservation efforts, and thereby have more influence over how these programs work.

To do this, we're going to take the first $20 of your annual contribution to AMERICAN FORESTS and use it to support this magazine and your member services. The additional funds will be split between education and policy programs, and to direct support for restoring and improving forest ecosystems. For those who can contribute more than the basic $30, we'll offer the opportunity to designate how your added contribution is used. In this way, our members are going to become more directly involved in the conservation work of the organization. We hope this is not only satisfying to you, our current members, but attractive to others as we reach out to enlarge our membership and increase our ability to promote intelligent forest conservation, management, and policy. Mainly, however, we hope it enables us to accomplish more of our conservation mission, both in changing public opinion and in improving America's forests--from the urban forest to the remotest wilderness. The conservation-action programs have been enormously successful in the past few years. We have helped purchase almost two million trees for forest-restoration projects under the Heritage Forests program, with the assistance of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Public agencies and private organizations have cooperated by identifying areas that need this kind of ecological restoration, and by bearing much of the cost and most of the work. In addition, we've helped sponsor hundreds of urban tree-planting projects that have involved thousands of people in making their communities more livable. Our waiting list, for both urban tree-planting and rural forest-restoration projects, continues to grow daily.

Conservation education has two basic challenges. The first is youth education. Each generation must learn the values of sound environmental conservation and management, and trees and forests offer excellent ways to teach basic environmental lessons. Our Famous & Historic Trees are now planted as Living Classrooms in hundreds of schoolyards, thanks to many fine commercial sponsors. Lessons there now focus on biology and ecology, history, and people--as reflected in trees that remind us of important events. AMERICAN FORESTS books, like Growing Greener Cities, and teacher's materials, like our World Forests Kit, provide useful, practical information.

Our second great educational challenge lies with the American public itself. We're facing some enormous challenges--particularly in properly managing America's public forests--and much of the problem today lies in a public that no longer trusts forest managers or allows good management.

A tragic lesson should have come from the recent fires in California, but unless the message is told much more effectively, it won't make much impact. Those fires are now estimated to have burned over 1,200 structures and almost 200,000 acres, and taken three lives. The damage estimate, in the billions, continues to mount as mudslides damage denuded hillsides. Several sensitive species may have been further threatened.

Much of that intensity and damage could have been avoided. Forest managers and fire agencies in California have been trying for years to gain the public support and budgets to do what they knew was needed. It is common knowledge that mature chaparral will burn uncontrollably, particularly when driven by the dry, hot Santa Ana winds. Any large, unbroken area can be the focus of a fire that cannot be slowed or controlled, no matter how many firefighters or pieces of fire equipment you can muster. The longer you keep fire out of these lands, the more uncontrollable the eventual fire is likely to become.

So California agencies have been trying for years to carry out a prescribed-fire program. The idea is to break up the big brush fields into smaller patches, creating a landscape of multi-aged plants that help hold fire size and intensity within more normal boundaries. You can't totally eliminate fire; you can manage land so that it carries a more normal, manageable fire. But the California public was having none of it. Concerns about smoke, threats to endangered species, and the risk of accidental fire escape stopped all agency proposals cold. In the aftermath, those concerns--and their effect--cost Californians millions of dollars. And the ultimate impact on the environment is worse.

Can we help people understand the risks they are creating, and change public opinion before we kill more people, destroy more communities, and damage more valuable forests? We don't know, but we know it can't happen unless organizations like AMERICAN FORESTS spread the forest-conservation message. That won't happen unless we can count on your support--and the support of thousands of conservation-minded Americans--in our work.

COPYRIGHT 1994 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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