Seventh American Forest Congress

Many Voices -- A Common Vision

Reports from participants in the Seventh American Forest Congress

The following was originally published in the March 1996 issue of Pacific Rim Wood Market Report (Number 103)

Seventh American Forestry Congress Provides Dialogue, Hope to Tree Users, and Some Agreement on a Forest Vision and Principles

by Jay Gruenfeld

Fourteen hundred of us attended the Seventh American Forestry Congress February 20-24 in Washington D.C. We represented the full gamut of people who are interested in the future of our forests. There were a few extremists who opposed any tree harvest on public lands, and, in contrast, I suspect there were a few extremists who wanted to abolish the U.S. Wilderness Area System -- approximately 150,000 square miles where virtually all logging is prohibited. Most of the 500 'scholarships' were given to assure that youth and the poor were well represented.

The pre-conference statement on what we were going to achieve proved to be overly optimistic, to the surprise of few, since it said:

"Together, you will agree on a shared vision for the future of America's forests, a set of guiding principles, and the next steps necessary to realize the vision based on the principles. This will be accomplished through interactive sessions using state-of-the-art methods in large group facilitation."

This didn't happen. But there was considerable agreement and most attendees thought it was a well run and very worthwhile Congress.

The "Motherhoody" Vision Statement

We voted on 15 elements of Vision. The second highest agreement was on the following statement:

"In the future our forests will be held in a variety of public, private, tribal, and trust ownerships by owners whose rights are respected and who understand and accept their responsibilities as stewards."

Total vote 1133: yes 79%, no 3%, unsure 14%. From this example you can see that the final Vision will be relatively uncontroversial, hence somewhat bland.

On the last day of the conference, well after completion of all of the votes, the following previously overlooked part of the Vision was included by acclamation: "In the future our forests will benefit from strong trust between diverse stakeholders."

Formulating and securing adoption of this key statement was my contribution to the Congress.

Since I am 71, a professional forester and political moderate, with over 45 years of forest related business experience, I have a firm belief that people are an important part of the ecosystem. It was encouraging to see that we environmental moderates were in the majority. Some of the environmental extremists, especially the younger ones, seemed honestly surprised to see that they really ARE in the minority.

It was obvious that although people in general recognize the non-dollar value of Ancient Trees, most are smart enough to know that the "excess of any virtue is a vice." Example: the proposal to repeal the salvage logging amendment (that allows the logging of some Ancient Trees) was defeated by a vote of 711 (Red) to 252 (Green), with 113 (Yellow -- defined as "uneasy with," "lacking information," and similar). Our table of 10 voted unanimously No (Red). This despite the fact our ten included bright and effective representatives of The Nature Conservancy group and the We-REALLY-Love-Old-Growth-Trees element.

So, for many, the thousands of square miles of Ancient Trees already permanently preserved in no-cut areas are enough. The Washington-Oregon area has 7,000 square miles of Ancient Trees already permanently preserved, with much more added by the Clinton Forest Plan.

More of the Congress' Moderate Thinking

The proposal to "ban logging on public lands" was defeated by a resounding 987 to 47, with 53 "uneasy" (yellow). Please note: this was the highest vote either for or against any of the 61 proposed principles. Another proposal, asking whether to ban new road construction or reconstruction of roads on public lands, had a "no" vote of 95 percent (976 against, 51 for, 58 uneasy).

The Forestry Congress showed again that dialogue improves trust, increases understanding, and is good for the forest.

Note: The U.S. Senate on March 14, 1996 rejected a massive effort by preservationists, led by Sen. Patty Murray, (D-WA), to repeal the "salvage rider" (Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Program). The vote was 54 to 42 and the margin was larger than expected. However, I suspect the Senate vote was influenced by the common-sense attitude displayed by the Forestry Congress in their vote on the issue.

Jay Gruenfeld is the President of Jay Gruenfeld Associates, Inc., Gig Harbor, WA

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