Seventh American Forest Congress

Many Voices--A Common Vision

Background on the Seventh American Forest Congress

Common Questions and Answers

Why Now?

The Process at a Glance

Common Questions and Answers

Why convene the Seventh American Forest Congress on February 20-24, 1996?

Forest Congress planners believe momentum is building for change. Surveys indicate forests are important to all Americans. In addition to recreational use, most Americans recognize a multitude of forest-products are made in the US, making America's forests a vital resource in the national economy. Sustaining the forest ecosystem is essential to the economic, environmental and spiritual needs of our society. Positive change in how Americans interact and manage forests will occur only if all interested citizens and groups make an effort to become involved. Action now is better than later.

How was the Forest Congress funded?

The Development Committee of the Board of Directors raised funds from a balance of constituencies, including corporations, not-for-profit business sources, foundations, environmental organizations and government agencies.

What did Forest Congress planners do to encourage the representation of all points of view and interests in the process?

The Nebraska Roundtable agreed it was crucial to the success of the Forest Congress to attract as many diverse groups and citizens as possible. The congress board of directors includes representatives from the USDA Forest Service, the Rainforest Alliance, The Conservation Fund, and The Wilderness Society in addition to companies like Georgia-Pacific, International Paper and Weyerhaeuser. A Citizen's Involvement Committee has been formed to reach out to interested citizen groups. Between July 1995 and January 1996, a series of 51 local roundtables and collaborative meetings were held to gather public input. Scholarships to attend the February 1996 Forest Congress in Washington, DC were made available to non-industrial private woodland owners, environmentalists, students, and others.

What was expected would happen after the Forest Congress?

It was expected that the spirit of this citizens' Congress would continue as a non-partisan participative process for implementing identified needs in research, policy, education, management and community involvement. Return to the Forest Congress Homepage to learn about what has taken place since the February 1996 Forest Congress gathering in Washington, DC.

How can I receive more information about the results of the February 1996 meeting in Washington D.C., the roundtables and other activities that led up to the February meeting and ways to participate in the ongoing activities of the Forest Congress?

  • Link to other resources in the Forest Congress Homepage.

  • Check out the documents available from the Forest Congress Information Center.

  • Contact the Forest Congress Information Center, Yale Forest Forum, 205 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511. Phone: (203) 432-5117. Fax: (203) 432-3809. Internet:

    Why Now?

    The U.S. marketplace has doubled its timber consumption since 1975. Over the same time period, the number of annual recreational visitors to American forests jumped 50% to 300 million a year. Public and private conservation efforts have had trouble keeping up with the increasing timber harvest of privately owned forestlands. Patchwork environmental policies have severely crippled small timber companies and communities dependent on forest resources. And in spite of record-high lumber prices and gains in productivity, net income continues to slide at some of the largest forest products companies.

    Are these contradictions acceptable for Americans to enjoy, manage and preserve 490 million acres of cherished forests? Decidedly not. In the spirit of addressing these conflicts, a group of leaders from government, conservation groups, and the forest products industry met in January 1995 at the Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

    Several basic convictions emerged from the Nebraska roundtable. First and foremost, the status quo of adversarial interests dominating forest policy is not working. Forest policy is now largely established by default, not through collaborative foresight. The bickering and litigation of the past decade have produced considerable distrust and widespread policy gridlock. Not surprisingly, public confidence in the current policy process is marginal at best.

    To improve communication among the full range of interests and establish a foundation for future policy, the Nebraska roundtable resolved to help convene the Seventh American Forest Congress. Previous congresses were held at critical points in history to focus national attention on forest problems and needs. Since the Sixth Forest Congress in 1975, issues such as protection of endangered species, preservation of natural ecosystems, property rights of private woodland owners, urban forests and local community involvement in forest management have entered forest policy discussions. Yet like other laws, court decisions and government directives, policies regarding these issues have become part of a hodgepodge of regulations enacted in response to special interests to address specific agendas.

    By reaching out to citizens, environmental groups, forest managers and industry, the Seventh American Forest Congress aims to channel the interests of diverse stakeholders into a common vision and set of principles that can guide forest policy of the future. At a minimum, the Forest Congress will be a process that will create a level of trust among groups who may be meeting together, outside of court, for the first time. The ultimate goal is to establish a cohesive and secure platform for the management of America's forests--one that will protect the environment, consider the needs of owners and communities, and also sustain a vibrant forest products industry.

    The Process of Developing a Common Vision

    The Seventh American Forest Congress was designed to be a citizens' event. A robust process was developed to reflect the voice of the people, rather than relying solely on experts, delegates or representatives. The purpose of the main Forest Congress gathering, which was held February 20-24, 1996 in Washington, DC, and of the many pre-Congress local roundtables and collaborative meetings, was to develop a common vision, agree upon principles to guide forest practices in the next century, and plan the next steps toward better forest policies. This inclusive process continues today as the vision developed at the Seventh American Forest Congress is implemented at the national level and locally across the country.

    This broad and open national dialogue began prior to the Congress through a series of pre-Congress roundtables and collaborative meetings, supplemented with input from interested individuals. The resulting visions, principles, and next steps were compiled for use by those who attended the Forest Congress meeting in February 1996.

    Pre-Congress Roundtables and Collaborative Meetings

    From July until the Forest Congress in February 1996, organizations, communities, and individuals were encouraged to organize roundtable discussions and collaborative meetings. This helped ensure that the views of the diverse groups and individuals with an interest in trees and forests from around the country who might not be able to attend the Seventh American Forest Congress in Washington, DC would be incorporated into the Forest Congress process.

    Roundtables, by definition, included the full spectrum of interests in an area, and were organized by a steering committee reflecting that spectrum. Each worked to develop consensus on answers to the three questions of vision, principles and next steps. Roundtables were usually conducted with the assistance of experienced facilitators and lasted a full day; although some were held in two, half-day sessions. A total of 51 roundtables were held prior to the Forest Congress meeting in February. Collaborative meetings were any gathering where the three Forest Congress topics were discussed and the group developed an agreement. Chapters of environmental organizations, professional societies, timber producers, recreational users, local activists of all kinds, or any other communities of interest or place, were free to organize their discussions and format as they saw fit. Forty-three collaborative meetings submitted their results prior to the Forest Congress meeting in February 1996.

    More information about how these meetings were organized is available from the Forest Congress Information Center, and many of the roundtable results are available on this homepage.


    Over 1,400 people attended the Forest Congress meeting in February 1996. The meeting was highlighted by a dynamic process of discussion and deliberation designed to capitalize on each individual's experience and creativity. People worked in Table Team groups of 8-10 reflecting the broad perspectives of those assembled. Listening was just as important as sharing. Through an iterative, interactive process, a common ground began to emerge as the will of the entire Congress.

    Each Table Team discussed the future they desired for America's forests and made recommendations to the Congress. Through a process facilitated by experts in large and small group processes and dynamics, but driven by the participants, the entire Congress built a common Vision & Principles, and began to detail local Action Steps. The interactive process included individual interaction, reflection time, Table Team discussions, and a reporting and synthesizing process. The recommendations and work produced prior to the Congress provided important background and a starting point for Congress discussions, however, the Congress process was fully open to the new and creative ideas of those attending. Special efforts were made to attract a truly diverse group to the Congress.

    On the whole, the Forest Congress was successful largely because the participants brought a commitment to diligently work with their Table Teams each day of the Congress, and trusted that the process would result in valid and credible recommendations. Only time will tell whether the bold goal of the Seventh American Forest Congress was met -- to hold the most significant Forest Congress in 100 years for guiding the future of America's forests.

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