The Timber Industry Takes Its Show on the Road

Article excerpt

The Timber Industry Takes Its Show On The Road

"We've been quiet too long." The voice is Jim Hinson's, executive vice president of Intermountain Forest Industry Association. His audience is a dozen press women, and we are standing on the grounds of a University of Idaho campus in the remote northern part of the state. We are on a media tour.

Alluding to the abundance of media coverage for what the timber industry calls preservationist thinking, tour host Joe Hinson - himself a forester - goes on to note that press tours are a new - or at least stepped-up - industry public-relations strategy.

For three days in late June of 1989, industry actively courted public opinion by giving us a firsthand look at timber management. We viewed clearcuts from the back of a horse, dined with logging families, toured a mill, and saw the woods through the eyes of company foresters. It was an odyssey into the issues, lifestyles, and personalities that are a part of the nation's ongoing debate over management of our forestlands.

"I didn't know that!" come to be the words Hinson most wants to hear as evidence that we are assimilating industry's side. It is a different side for some - such as the freelancer fresh from writing a scathing piece on below-cost timber sales for The New Republic. The tour through northern Idaho and western Montana gives us a chance to corner and grill a dean of the university's college of forestry and a Forest Service representative, among others.

By late afternoon of that first day, we have seen a selective cut, a regenerated stand, and a high-tech Forest Service seedling orchard boasting tomorrow's "super trees." Our guide has introduced us to new disease-resistant white pine, special techniques in starting seedlings, and up-to-date genetic research. To think that just hours earlier, some of us hadn't even known a fir from a pine. Our questions grow more complex and educated as the activities unfold.

An evening spent listening to the fiddles of a logging family and a good night's sleep in an old-time Forest Service bunkhouse add to the feelings that we are in timber country. In fact, we are in the thick of the battleground. We all had previously met some of the preservationist forces, and now we're shaking hands with the other side. …