Magazine article American Forests

Industry Challenge: Heed Public Perceptions

Magazine article American Forests

Industry Challenge: Heed Public Perceptions

Article excerpt

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. …

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