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What's in a name?

Following a lengthy study by our long-range planning committee, the Board of Directors voted last spring to change the name of the American Forestry Association. Without changing our official documents or legal name, we decided we would henceforth call ourselves "American Forests." Since then we have been in the midst of a transition, using up old supplies, changing brochures, and deciding how to achieve all the tasks that must accompany such a change. We will use our fall meeting, November 5-7, to publicly show many of the new materials that have been developed.

We've received considerable mail from our members and supporters on this subject. Most of it has been overwhelmingly favorable, but some was critical. The most important questions asked were "why did you do it?" and "what does it mean?"

The Board had been considering the name of the organization for several years. It was clear that to most people the words "forestry association" indicated that we were an industry trade association. As the nation's oldest national citizen conservation organization, we wanted people to understand that we consist of a broad variety of individuals, from many walks of life, who care for trees and forests. It was obvious that this message wasn't getting across to people who saw only our name.

So we asked, "Is the name part of that problem?" and tested the perception of names in a 1990 opinion survey of both members and prospective members. Sure enough, more than 15 percent of the respondents (most of whom were already members) thought that the name sounded like an industry organization. That percentage dropped by half when the term "American Forests" was tested.

But there was great reluctance by the Board of Directors to change a name that had enjoyed an illustrious history and reputation for over a century. Board discussions, however, brought us to the conclusion that the popular television ad that says "you never have a second chance to make a first impression" held a strong message for us. If our name was causing a misunderstanding, and we were spending much time explaining who our organization is, we had a problem that wouldn't fix itself.

Over several years, we had studied name lists, matrices, and all kinds of proposals. None was as universally accepted as "American Forests." Though the name does not readily indicate an "organization," it had several modern counterparts in other organizations. It was a name that we owned without question or encroachment on anyone else, having used it since 1902 as the masthead for our magazine.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the new name would give us the chance to call attention to our primary mission: to ensure the benefits of trees and forests for people. Clearly, the most important factor in allowing people to enjoy forest benefits is that the forests themselves continue to thrive. Our basic concern, therefore, is the resource base itself. When that resource is available and healthy, it is available for management and enjoyment in a variety of ways. Many of those ways, we believe, will best be accomplished by the practice of the science and art we know as forestry.

But other management disciplines, and other approaches, have relevance as well. And there are some uses--such as recreation, energy production, and watershed protection--that may be achieved as well on some unmanaged forests as they are on forests that are managed through forestry techniques. Urban and community forests--while their care has become, in many people's minds, a legitimate branch of forestry--is certainly based on a different mix of techniques and skills than is traditional forestry.

So while we did not wish to downplay in any way the importance of forestry, we wanted to reach out to those millions of other people who also care for trees and forests, and to indicate that they are, as they have been since 1875, an important and welcome member in our association. Of all the names we could choose, "American Forests" seemed to best send that message.

Our strategic planning process at AMERICAN FORESTS is continuing. Our organization is growing, both in financial stability and in the number of our members, supporters, and partners. We believe that the messages we are bringing to the public, and the practical, problem-solving ways in which we are involving people in positive environmental improvement, have relevance far beyond our small organization, and far beyond the shores of the U.S. We hope that is the message that becomes fixed in people's minds when they hear our new name. We want them to say, "That's the group of people who do so much good for the trees and forests of the world." We hope you join us in that hope, and that each of our members and supporters will carry this message to others.
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Title Annotation:American Forestry Association changes name to American Forests
Author:Tarver, Charles M.
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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