Seventh American Forest Congress

Many Voices -- A Common Vision

Reports from participants in the Seventh American Forest Congress

Innerscapes of
A Citizens' Forest Congress

Lorne Peterson

A Participant's Report
The Seventh American Forest Congress



At the Seventh American Forest Congress, people with diverse concerns came together in roundtable conversations with the aim of developing common ground for protecting, using and restoring forests.

It was hoped that people would go beyond their usual interests and meet as citizens. This process of finding and creating common ground, as citizens, through roundtable dialogues may be the beginning of a new way to resolve social, economic and environmental conflicts. It may also be an effective approach for learning to live in community with the land.

Over 1,100 people participated in the discussions at the Forest Congress, which was held in late February 1996 in Washington, D.C. The participants met in roundtable conversations of 8-10 persons. Each table was composed of people with diverse interests and backgrounds, ranging from government foresters to forest products company managers to forest farmers to conservationists to university researchers to community association representatives.

The Forest Congress was the culmination of a countrywide series of roundtable dialogues that had been going on for almost a year.

This participant's report, written independently as a voluntary initiative, is an attempt to portray the working processes of the Forest Congress and to show what some of the results were. The report also consists of my own responses to the ways in which the Congress work was designed and thoughts on other approaches to roundtable processes.

I wrote this report in the Spring. After a busy summer of other writing projects, I finally made time in the Autumn for final editing and for sending out some 12 copies for circulation to members of my Congress table team, the Forest Congress Office, and others, including interested individuals and organizations.

My hope is that this report will provide helpful feedback to the people who participated in the Forest Congress, and useful ideas for people who are interested in learning to convene similar roundtable conversations, from local to countrywide levels.

The Forest Congress was intended to be the start of a new process, rather than an end in itself, where people learn to live and work in complementary ways with each other and nature. So, I also hope that this report contributes to the continuing development of roundtable conversations on learning to live well together in relations of respect for forests.

Lorne Peterson
Great Red Maple Lookout
Potomac-Anacostia River Region
Washington, D.C.
October 1996

A Way of Circulating the Report

Please pass on the report to others after you have read it. Feel free to make
photocopies of the report for yourself, friends and colleagues. If you want to quote passages
from the report, please remember to cite the author and title. This is a copyrighted work.

Lorne Peterson (copywrite 1996)

To contact the author send e-mail to




Concepts of A Public-Spirited Dialogue

A Citizens' Forest Congress?

Citizens and Poets

Day One
Introductions -- Brainstorming -- Visions -- Concurrent Dialogues

Day Two
Further Concurrent Dialogues -- Vision Statements -- Principles

Day Three
Confirming Principles -- National & Back-Home Next Steps

Day Four
Reviewing Visions & Principles -- Participant Feedback
Inspirational Talk -- Individual Commitments -- Conflicts & Resolutions

Forward: Living in Community with Forests

Creating Citizens' Roundtable Projects: A Summary of Guidelines



Innerscapes of
A Citizens' Forest Congress

Lorne Peterson

It would be well if we saw
ourselves in perspective always,
impressed with distinct outline on
the sky, side by side with the
shrubs on the river's brim.

The Journal of 1840


In explorations of forests as a photographer and writer, I have learned that only a small part of a forest can be seen from a scenic viewpoint outside it. To see what a forest is, you have to go into it.

Standing within a forest beside trees, smaller plants and other forms of life, a larger and deeper perspective begins to grow. Insights come. You begin to see the forest and all of its residents living-working-playing together in a multiplicity of interweaving relations so complex and beautiful that you stand in wonder feeling part of an ever-unfolding creative process.

Outside forests, in our daily lives, in the urban and rural forest clearings where most of us make our living, it is difficult to maintain an awareness of ourselves as residents of the larger forest communities of the land. We forget that we actually are part of forests and other living landscapes. This is, perhaps, the source of all our ecological troubles.

When by chance I saw a notice in a Washington, D.C. environmental newspaper for the Seventh American Forest Congress, I thought, this looks like what we may need to remind ourselves that we live in and among forests.

Concepts of A Public-Spirited Dialogue

This Forest Congress was being convened by all the various forest interests, including industry, government, workers, forest farmers, universities, conservation and environmental groups, and community organizations.

It was the first time anyone had attempted to bring together such a broad range of people concerned with forests. The aims were to develop an understanding of our important relations with forests, and to create common ground for protecting, using and restoring forests. The Forest Congress seemed to be based on the latest thinking for resolving the contentious conflicts between economic growth and environmental preservation.

That is, we need to go beyond the unproductive and divisive tactics of court battles and confrontations over issues such as protecting endangered species and changing poor forest management. We need to meet, talk, listen and work together to develop broad perspectives on preserving, using and restoring forests. Seeing forests in public-spirited ways can help us to create intelligent guidelines for our personal, social, cultural, economic and political relations with forested land.

As I learned more from the literature on the Forest Congress, I became increasingly impressed with its intentions and approaches, but some skeptical questions came up too.

The idea had originated with a small group of people from universities, conservation organizations and forest companies. In 1994, they explored a new perception: among the diverse and conflicting forest interests there may be much more agreement on principles of conservation and management than anyone had thought.

This initial group of some 11 people, from organizations such as American Forests, the International Paper Company, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University and the Society of American Foresters, circulated the new perception of the potential for common agreement on principles in their various networks.

Then, they tested the idea by organizing a roundtable discussion in January 1995 at the Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City. Some 50 people from government, conservation groups, universities, native organizations, forest management companies and forest products companies came to the meeting.

Each person was asked to bring a vision statement on the best ways to protect and manage forests. Five roundtable discussion groups were formed with mixtures of people representing the various forest interests. Each table had a facilitator to assist in the discussions which were aimed towards developing agreement on a common vision, general principles and next steps for action.

The participants at the Nebraska Roundtable did discover, indeed, that despite their different interests in forests, there was much agreement on principles. For example, almost everyone agreed on the need for maintaining healthy forests to provide clean air and water, long-term supplies of forests products and diverse wildlife. They also agreed that citizens need to know more about forests and must be involved in decisions on how they are used.

There was concern that the public was upset and disillusioned by the constant conflicts over forest use among government, industry, private forest landowners and conservation groups. These conflicts had resulted in a tangle of contradictory policies and forest management practices that were based on special interest agendas. There was a need for citizen involvement to support the development of broad public policies and sensible forest management approaches that would serve all of society, rather than the interests of specific groups.

There was also agreement on the need to find solutions to conflicts over forests outside courtrooms. So, the participants committed themselves to developing a countrywide grassroots dialogue on forests. They thought the most effective way to organize and facilitate such an initiative would be to convene the Seventh American Forest Congress. (There had been six Forest Congresses called since 1882. They are national meetings convened when concerns about forest management and conservation reach critical levels. The last five were called by the American Forestry Association.)

A Citizens' Forest Congress?

The seventh congress was, from the beginning, quite different from the others. It was organized by a much broader range of forestry interests. Instead of being planned as one more congress of professional foresters, industry interests, government policy makers and conservation organizations, it was conceived as a "Citizens' Congress". The 11 originators of the notion, and the 50 participants at the Nebraska Roundtable, had a vision of people coming together as citizens, representing the various regions across the United States, to develop ideas for guiding future forest policy and management.

At the Nebraska Roundtable, people thought it was important to get grassroots discussions going across the country before the national Forest Congress. So several participants volunteered to form a board of directors for the Congress, and a Congress Office was set up at Yale University to assist in the organizing of local roundtables in as many states as possible. The local meetings would use the same roundtable discussion process used in the Nebraska meeting to develop visions, principles and action programs. These local and regional roundtable discussions would go on for almost a year before the national Congress happened on February 20-24, 1996. (Over 50 pre-congress roundtables were held in most regions of the country.)

Even though the intentions seemed good, I wondered whether this was really going to be a "Citizens' Congress". It had been initiated by professionals from the various forest interests, not by citizens. Yet, the pre-congress literature underscored that the Congress initiators and organizers had themselves met as concerned citizens. That is probably true, but they also met as professionals in their various fields. So, the reality was more complex.

People are capable of checking their special interests at the door and engaging in discussions as public-spirited citizens; however, our interests and backgrounds still tend to influence the ideas we put forward and the ways we respond to the ideas of others. The challenge for this Forest Congress and its participants would be to inspire and encourage broad perspectives on concerns and ideas. People would need to feel moved to open up to new ways of seeing our relations with forests.

Citizens and Poets

Further questions arose when I looked at some of the reports from the pre-congress roundtables, which were available on a World Wide Web site for the Forestry Congress. Most of the participants were professionals in forestry, forest companies and public interest groups, rather than individual citizens.

Many of the reports had visions and guidelines stated in the utilitarian language of forest managers and harvesters, plus the environmental jargon expressions often used by conservationists and environmentalists. Only a few of the reports were infused with a new kind of public-spiritedness with broad perspectives and creative ideas for protecting, using and restoring forests. And only a few of the reports spoke of the forests themselves, and of the importance of learning to live in relations of respect with forests. There seemed to be a focus mainly on managing forests.

I was struck by the absence of evocative language in the vision statements. The language was at its best straightforward and practical, but often so ordinary that it read like a government report. If these statements were supposed to inspire people to create new ways of protecting, using and restoring forests, they would have to go beyond the utilitarian language of foresters, forest companies, policy makers and conservation groups.

I wondered why the Congress organizers had not invited poets, writers and other people from the arts to contribute their talents. America is rich in poets and writers of the land, such as A.R. Ammons and Barry Lopez, who, in kinship with Thoreau, are skilled at combining science and art to give stirring and fresh insights into our relations with nature. Why were such people missing in the Forest Congress process? Perhaps it was the old problem of keeping art separate from not only science, but also from most parts of our everyday lives. Such fragmentation of life certainly misses the essence of forest ecology, where all the different natural forms and processes work and play together in relationships of creativity.

Reading the pre-congress reports and thinking about the above questions on poets and citizens made me wonder whether the Forestry Congress that the originators had envisioned would really happen. How many of the participants from the various forest interests would talk and listen with the broad perspective of citizens and think creatively beyond their own concerns?

Even though the organizers were attempting to design the Congress for citizen involvement, a challenging barrier would have to be surmounted. In the modern world, where everyone seems to have to join a group or organization to stand a chance of being heard, there is almost no room for the voice of an individual citizen. This state of affairs has been encouraged by government planners, policy makers and politicians. It is much easier for them to deal with a representative of a stakeholder group than with a broad range of individuals. In such a social and political atmosphere, where special interest groups, policy makers and politicians dominate decision-making processes, people often find it futile to act as individual citizens. You are easily dismissed and ignored.

So, the Congress organizers were asking citizens to make a great leap of faith. The sub-title on the Forestry Congress program brochure, "Many Voices: A Common Vision", provided encouragement to individuals. But this seemed to be counterpointed by an inspirational quote from Margaret Mead that was also on the brochure cover, which implied that groups, rather than individuals, were what counted. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Perhaps Margaret Mead was right. Maybe we have to engage in group action to change things. But group action usually leads to group institutionalization. Before you know it, you are a member of a large organization, trying to make yourself heard. There must be a better way, one that involves, for example, coming together as citizens to create new ideas and actions on a project basis, rather than forming another organization or interest group.

The pre-congress literature suggested that the Congress organizers had something similar in mind: a public process of dialogue and action, not the establishment of one more organization. I was attracted by the idea of a public process of people coming together as citizens to develop creative ways of seeing, understanding and using forests. So, even though I had doubts, I decided to go to the Seventh American Forest Congress in Washington, D.C.

* * * *

I went to the Forest Congress primarily as an individual to contribute to the discussions and aims, and secondarily as a writer to observe what happened and write an article on what I learned. Being a participant in this Citizens' Congress on Forests could give insights into the whole process, which would not be accessible to the journalists who watched the proceedings from the outside and who attended the daily press briefing.

Attending the Congress as a participant was similar to the approach of going into the innerscapes of a forest to get to know its residents and their interrelations, and to learn what the processes are that give and maintain life in a forest community.

The person responsible for providing press passes understood why I also wanted a participant pass. He said that he had hoped some writers might participate in the roundtable discussions. During the Congress, the only time I wore my press pass was for an initial press conference the day before the event started. I became completely involved as a participant in the Forest Congress.

Later, when I began to write an article on the experience, there was so much to recount and to rethink that the article grew into this report.

Day One
Introductions -- Brainstorming -- Visions -- Concurrent Dialogues

On the first day of the Congress, when I introduced myself to my Congress Table Team as being both a participant and a writer, they were not as understanding as the press contact person. I received some wary looks that asked, "Are you going to quote what we say?" I said that my primary interest was in contributing as a participant. As a writer, my plan was to write a story on the larger process of the Congress itself, not report what people said at our table. Later, as I worked as a participant, everyone seemed to accept me as part of the table team.

I must admit that at my Congress Table I felt, at first, out of place because I didn't seem to share many interests with the other nine persons. This turned out to be a common feeling among the some 1,100 people at the Congress, who were sitting in table teams of 8-10 at more than 100 round tables.

One participant aptly summed up this general feeling as "being out of my circle of comfort." The organizers had done a good job of creating a diverse mixture of people, both geographically and in interests.

The table team I sat with was diverse geographically, but not as balanced in terms of interests. It was composed mainly of people involved in harvesting and managing forests. I was one of two people at the table mainly interested in preservation and conservation. This made me a little uncomfortable, but by the end of the first morning session, I learned that below the surface of our differences we shared many similar concerns for forests.

Sitting around my table were a forest landowner (or forest farmer) from Georgia, a retired doctor and forest landowner from Virginia, a Washington-based representative for a southern forest landowners association, a forestry university professor from Illinois who was also a forest landowner, a university forestry teacher from Idaho who was also a member of a forest conservation foundation, a forest management advisor from South Carolina who works for a company that provides assistance to private landowners, a forester with the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management in Virginia, a person from the Ministry of Forests in China who was learning the forest management techniques of a company in Idaho, and myself, a writer and photographer interested in nature, culture, art and ecology, and a recent newcomer to Washington, D.C., from Ottawa, Canada.

There were two women, both in their mid-30s, and the rest were men ranging in age from late-40s to mid-50s to late-60s.

As part of the table team introductions, each of us said something about why we were involved in the Forest Congress. I spoke of being impressed with the idea of a Citizens' Congress, saying that working together as citizens, with broad perspectives on issues and ideas, had much potential for resolving our ecological troubles. The last two words, "ecological troubles", seemed to cast me right away as some kind of naturalist or environmentalist who probably didn't approve of most government foresters or forest farmers, because of their tendency to ignore the larger forest community and see trees mainly as timber.

But as we got to know each other over the three and one-half days at our table, such stereotyping gave way to not only more rounded perceptions of each other, but also acceptance and appreciation of our different qualities.

It seemed that the initiators and convenors of the congress had been right in their views on the potential for commonality among the various forest interests. But strong differences did arise between participants at their roundtables, and civility sometimes lost out to name calling. Such situations were, however, exceptions.

The people at my table, for example, not only respected differences, but also asked questions in a spirit of curiosity and learning to find out why a person thought in a certain way.

The design of the whole process for the table team discussions encouraged mutual respect. After the introductions, the first step for each table team was to make commitments for how everyone would relate to each other and contribute to the work. Everyone at the table had a turn at expressing a hope for the discussions.

One of the basic commitments we were asked to make, before expressing individual hopes, was that we would participate, if possible, for the full three and one-half days of the Congress. I can't recall all of the nine expressions of hope that we agreed on, but most were on the theme of talking, listening and learning together with a spirit of openness.

These commitments set a tone of goodwill for the discussions that definitely helped us to maintain civility and respect around our table. But the table team discussions also went well because we had a constant flow of purposeful work to get done. To complete our many assigned tasks and meet the short deadlines, we had to work together without friction. I don't know if the designers of the table team work processes had intended to keep us so busy working together that we had little opportunity to argue, but this was certainly the effect.

Working with others is one of the best ways to get to know people, and to develop the common ground and bonds that create a sense of community.

Another less beneficial side of the constant work assignments and tight time schedules was few opportunities for going deeply into the subjects of discussion. Most people found this frustrating because they often wanted to learn more or say more about an issue or idea, but there was simply no time.

Right from the beginning we were immersed in work processes and instructions from the Congress hall facilitators who spoke through microphones on a stage. These instructions were also provided at each table in printed hand-outs.


Our first assignment was to select a table facilitator and recorder for a brainstorming session on "What We Feel Good About" and "What We Feel Not So Good About" America's forests. There were written instructions on the roles of the facilitator and recorder, and written rules for brainstorming. The rules, designed to prevent conflict, included "do not evaluate each other's comments", "do not discuss each other's points", "it is OK to have the same thought on both sides of the list" since "what is working for one person may not be working for another", the "recorder is to quickly write exactly what has been said, whether or not you understand it".

We had 30 minutes to brainstorm our feel good and feel not so good thoughts. Such brainstorming didn't make sense to me. The whole process had always seemed to encourage narrow opinions, not creative conversation and thinking. But, as it happened, this quick and harried process did have certain benefits.

At our table, I volunteered to be the recorder and write what people said on an easel chart with a felt tip pen. We each had to take a turn at the roles of facilitator and recorder. This work process gave us a sense of shared responsibility for what happened. It was a welcome contrast with the conventional method of having a professional facilitator push the brainstorming along and reduce one's thoughts to simplistic phrases on a flip chart.

The 30 minute limit for brainstorming meant we only had three minutes each to say something. So, we agreed to simply go around the table and give each person a turn to express a feel good and feel not so good statement.

After our time was up, the recorded list of feel not so good statements outnumbered the feel good ones by almost three to one. So, we took a few moments to add a couple of feel goods to the list. This took some time out of the 10 minutes we then had to select the top three in each category, and to highlight the most important one of the three, which would be reported by the recorder to the general congress, with the aid of a microphone. We had to figure out ourselves how to choose the top three statements, and the most important one, in each category. The best way seemed to be to vote on pieces of paper. So, that's what we did.

Even though this process seemed simplistic and superficial, in addition to being trying because of all the different instructions that had to be digested, it did reveal people's primary concerns and ideas. You could see the basic interests of each person come out directly and indirectly in the statements.

In my own case, the feel good statements were: "People talking together about forests" and "The recognition of the value of old-growth forests". My feel not so good was: "The narrow focus on using forests".

Our team selections for the top three in each category, with the first in each being the most important were:


1. The common interest in wanting to improve the forests. 2. The interest in resolving differences. 3. People talking together about forests.


1. Lack of scientific basis for many opinions on forests. 2. The management of public and private forests being relegated to the courts. 3. Lack of understanding of rights, such as individual property rights.

These statements were echoed in various ways from the other table teams during the reporting out by microphones. So, this "brainstorming" exercise was a useful first step towards one of the main aims of the Congress process, finding out what we agreed on.

But there were some equally important points of discussion at our table, and most likely at others, that were not recorded on the easel charts, because they didn't fit into the process. These were brief exchanges of questions and thoughts that came out during the statements of feeling each person made.

For example, when my turn came and I tried to express my main "feel not so good" thought, which was "the narrow focus on using forests", most everyone was puzzled. What do you mean? I struggled to find a way to sum up the complexities of this concern.

Do you mean that there is too much utilitarian interest in forests? asked one person. Yes, that's part of it. Do you include in the term "using" not only cutting trees, but also using forests for recreation and for their beauty? Yes, that's part of it. Well, I don't get it, how can you not use a forest?

This was getting right down to the difficult-to-express essentials. Maybe, I said, it's like getting to know someone and being a friend. A friendship relation is not based on using another person. It is a relation of mutual respect, and of appreciating and accepting who the person is.

Someone said, so you mean seeing the intrinsic value of the forest itself.

Yes, that's it.

Then another person spoke about going out for evening walks into the forest on his land, and how just being there gave him a spiritual lift.

This conversation did much to broaden my limited perceptions of forest farmers and landowners. We did have much in common.

Again, our exchange of thoughts and feelings didn't fit into the reporting out process, so what we said won't appear in the official Congress report. But our conversations helped to develop the common understanding among ourselves that we needed to reach the aims of the Congress. Each of us involved in the conversation could also carry away inside ourselves a broader perspective on who people are and what forests are.


After a coffee break, we began working on the development of a common vision for forests. This work was even more challenging and trying than the brainstorming exercise. But once again, the enormous amount of work and tight deadlines seemed to bring out the best in us.

We were handed a sheaf of printed instructions and a list of vision elements that had been distilled from the 51 pre-congress roundtables, 36 collaborative pre-congress meetings of various organizations and groups, and from over 500 responses from individuals.

There were seven vision elements with a brief preface that read: "Forests are part of our culture, history and identity. In the future, our forests..." The second sentence was the beginning phrase for each of the seven elements. For example, the first vision statement read: "In the future, our forests will expand across the landscape."

The two preface sentences bothered me, but we did not receive instructions saying they were open for discussion. So, they were taken as given. These sentences missed an important ecological perspective: forests are not part of our cultures, rather we are part of forests and the larger ecology of the land that they constitute. The preface also missed another important perspective: forests are not "ours". Forests are communities of life with their own existence. A forest is both an independent and interdependent expression of nature, just as we are.

These misperceptions seemed strangely outdated. We are part of forests and the larger landscapes of nature they are expressions of; and forests themselves are communities. These insights have come from the science of forest ecology, and from the traditional knowledge of native peoples, and from the works of poets, painters and writers.

Thinking this over later, it became clear that the perception of forests as being ours, enfolded into American culture, and other modern cultures, is still all-pervasive. Put simply, most of us continue to think that nature has been conquered by human beings and harnessed for our own interests. We have come to think of ourselves and our human cultures as being larger than nature.

That this is a misperception can be shown quite simply by using our largest sense organ, our skin. When you walk down the street and feel the air upon your face, you are feeling the larger medium of life--the atmosphere of the earth--in which we live. We are within and part of this larger natural reality. It is the same with forests. Our lives are interwoven into the forest communities of the land.

Native peoples of North America understand this. They say we belong to the land, it does not belong to us.

What we may need now is a variation on this cultural perception that includes our ability to make large-scale changes in the ecology of the land, from local to global levels. For example, our ability to affect climate through the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases that result in global warming.

But it would also be important to recognize this fact of modern life in a way that accounts for our ultimate inability to control nature, so that the emphasis would be on learning to live in ways that respect, work with and contribute to the larger ecology of the land.

As the discussion of the vision elements began, it became clear that some of the elements were based on a broader view of our relations with forests, which recognized the reality of people living in and within the larger forest ecology of the land. But I had to read between the lines to see such underlying meanings.

We had 15 minutes to discuss the vision elements and then vote on each of them. We were also given time to develop up to three missing elements. The time constraints seemed unreal for the complex exercise. But we devised a variation on the instructions that more or less worked.

Each of us took time to read the seven elements and edit them in ways that made us more comfortable with them. Then, we went through them one-by-one with opportunities for everyone to make suggestions for changes. After that, we voted green (agree), yellow (mixed feeling, but can live with) or red (disagree) on the vision elements that we had revised. We then worked on developing and writing missing vision elements.

Interestingly, there was only one out of the seven vision elements that most of us accepted almost completely as written. "In the future, our forests will provide a full range of economic and non-economic goods, services, and values that contribute to economic security, social satisfaction, spiritual fulfilment and community well-being." It was probably difficult for anyone to disagree with such a broad vision statement, which related to most of the main aspects of life.

The other six vision elements were less general and more focused on particular areas. For instance, "In the future, our forests will be held in a variety of forms of public and private ownership by owners who accept the rights and responsibilities to fulfil both public and private interests." This touched a few nerves among the forest landowners around the table, who were concerned about anyone telling them how to manage their land.

I agreed on the need to change this statement so that it included provisions for consultations with landowners before the creation laws or regulations or responsibilities by government agencies. Making rules and regulations without consultation with people is the surest way to defeat whatever good intentions may be involved. It makes sense to propose and discuss, rather than to impose. Sometimes, of course, when people refuse to practise sensible forest management, laws do have to be firmly applied.

Some of the vision elements were simply misconceived or misworded. This brought out something important: we have much to learn conceptually on the ecology of forests, including our relations with forested land, and verbally in terms of finding ways to express forest ecology and our reciprocal relationships with forests.

Here is an example of a mixed up and not well-expressed statement. "In the future, our forests will sustain forest ecosystems; will be highly productive of a full range of goods, services and values; will support biological diversity, ecological and evolutionary processes; and will be healthy." Such overly complicated statements were probably a result of the congress organizers not wanting to lose any of the initial ideas from the pre-congress sessions from across the country. But such statements also reflected conceptual and verbal confusion.

After suggestions from the table teams for editing were processed, during late-night sessions by volunteers, the above statement came out as, "In the future, our forests will be sustainable; support biological diversity; maintain ecological and evolutionary processes; and be highly productive."

The wording was much better, but the statement is still constructed with science-environmental jargon. We need a way of expressing concepts of ecology that are direct, concise and evocative. We need new language and concepts that can help us to understand forests themselves and our relations with forested land.

This became so clear in our table team discussions, where each of us struggled to find the right concepts for encompassing all we meant, and the right words for saying what we thought. Often, the words and concepts did not exist. It was as if we were people who were just learning where they lived, who they were and how everything in life is interrelated.

We understand only a little of the ecology of life, and we can only express a few of the things we are learning.

It was encouraging, however, to see everyone attempt to find the right concepts and right words. We were doing pioneering work in developing a better understanding of relations between forests and human culture.

The seventh vision element that we edited reflected this forward-looking development of new relations with forests. It read: "In the future, our forests will be supported by a citizenry that is knowledgeable and actively engaged in the stewardship of forests, recognizes forests to be an integral part of a healthy biosphere, and appreciates the contribution of forests to the quality of life now and in the future." Once again, a mouthful of words and phrases that needed further editing, but the intention sounded good.

By the end of this working session on visions, we generally felt that our concerns and ideas had been included in the editing we did of the draft vision statements, but there was also frustration at not having time for in-depth discussions and for making better revisions. Similar concerns were expressed by other table teams.

Concurrent Dialogues

After lunch, all of the table team participants were asked to select and attend one of twenty-four Concurrent Dialogue Sessions, with topics ranging from "Biophysical and social science base for ecosystem management" to "Historical perspectives on regulation vs. market solutions in forest policy". Later, everyone would give a brief report on the selected topic to her or his table team. The idea was to broaden our knowledge and perspectives on forest issues.

While looking for my selected session, I was by chance drawn into another room by a box of reports near the doorway. The reports were titled "Ecological Stewardship Workshop". The cover page also had a longer title "Toward A Scientific And Social Framework For Ecology Based Stewardship Of Federal Lands And Waters".

Some days later when I happened to look at the back cover of the report, there was a quote from Aldo Leopold that confirmed the fortuitousness of going into this session. It was a quote from Leopold's classic 1949 book A Sand County Almanac: "We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

Here was an inspirational example of someone who got to know the larger ecology of the land, and who learned to express what he saw in simple and evocative language.

The session on Ecological Stewardship did not involve such language, but it did point to the need for creativity in land management. It was a presentation by scientists on a workshop process designed to develop an ecosystem management approach. The workshop, held in Tucson, Arizona, December 2-14, 1995, was based on a broad partnership of public and private organizations. It brought together some 350 scientists and resource managers. The aims of the workshop were to identify the kinds of natural and social science knowledge required for ecological stewardship, and to specify useful applications of such knowledge for the management of public lands and waters.

This broadly based workshop process for developing ecological stewardship ideas and strategies included going beyond scientific and technical views of ecosystems. The participants identified the need to involve philosophers and persons working in the arts, who could illuminate qualitative dimensions of the land itself and people's relations with the land, such as the beauty and spirit of landscapes and local residents' love of place. These qualitative aspects of life are essential to consider when developing ecological stewardship programs.

The workshop had also focused on the need to consult long-time residents of the land, such as ranchers, to learn from their intimate knowledge of weather, landforms, wildlife and other natural forms and processes.

This ecological approach to land and water management brings together most of the threads of the latest thinking on how to manage land in ways mutually beneficial for people and nature.

The workshop was seen as a first step in a long-term process for learning the science and art of an ecological approach to working with the natural forms and processes of the land.

As a next step in this ecological stewardship project, some of the scientists who participated in the workshop formed a team to develop a reference guide for an ecological approach to land and water management. They are calling the guide a "tool kit" of concepts and management strategies for public and private resource managers. This reference guide is scheduled to be available by July 1996, in hard copy and electronically through the Internet. It will be updated now and then as new knowledge and information is developed.

(For information contact: William T. Sexton, USDA Forest Service, Ecosystem Management - 3C, P.O. BOX 96090, Washington, D.C. 20090 or e-mail: /s3Db.sexton/

I thought that such a reference guide would be very useful for the forest landowners I was getting to know in my table team. There is a lot of conceptual talk about ecosystem management, but few references on how to use ecological approaches in managing land.

Later, after I gave a brief report on the ecological stewardship dialogue session, only one person in my table team was interested enough to write down the name of the workshop report. He worked in the field of ecological stewardship. The forest landowner managers seemed suspicious of terms such as "ecosystem management". To many forest managers, these kinds of terms most often represent the opaque jargon of scientists, mainly federal ones, who want to impose management strategies on private and public forest land in favour of endangered species, and nature in general. They think the end result will be decreased sales of forest products and lost jobs.

Interestingly, one of the main purposes of the workshop on ecological stewardship was to address the concerns and mistrust of resource managers by pointing to the benefits of ecosystem management. The cautious responses of my fellow table team members made me realize that much more work is needed to give everyone in society opportunities to learn about ecological approaches to working with the land. More workshops like the one in Tucson are needed, where everyone, from public and private land managers to citizens, is invited to participate in developing forms of ecological stewardship that create complementary relations with the natural processes of the land.

By the end of the first day at the Forest Congress, there was one thought underscored in my mind. "People don't want to be told how to manage their land." A sensible stance, I thought. It is better to learn as an individual, and together in community, to live, plan and manage in complementary relations with the larger ecology of the land. There is a need for regulations and laws, but it is best to develop them together and to use them with sensitivity and good judgement.

Day Two
Further Concurrent Dialogues -- Vision Statements -- Principles

The next morning, from 8:00-9:30, there was another set of concurrent dialogue sessions to attend, and then report on. I went to a session on "Definitions and Concepts of Forest Health". This topic was presented by R. Neil Sampson who works with the Forest Policy Center at American Forests, a public policy institute in Washington, D.C. He has worked in the field of forest health for some 20 years.

Sampson began his presentation with a quote: "Forest health is a condition of forests ecosystems that sustains their complexity while providing for human needs." (O'Laughlin 1996)

This definition can be seen as balancing the needs of both people and forests, or as quite human-centred. Sampson added fuel to the controversial human-centred interpretation by saying "our ultimate appraisal of the health of a forest is based on the values we hold."

But he seemed to lean toward a balanced ecological view of forest health similar to Aldo Leopold's, which includes an understanding of the capacity of forests for self-renewal and of the human activities that can undermine or contribute to the ecology of forests.

There is perhaps too much emphasis in Sampson's view on how concepts of forest health are inextricably tied to what people want from a forest, ranging from forests products to scenic beauty.

His ideas brought out much lively discussion. Some people said that forest health should not be based on human values, but rather on ecosystem science. Others said that the term health should be dropped because it distorts the whole process of life, death and renewal in a forest. For example, diseased and dying trees, fire and other natural disturbances can be viewed as unhealthy when they actually are important contributors to forest self-renewal processes.

The basic criticism was that forest health is not a scientific concept. It is too value-laden. Sampson said that the forest health concept is useful exactly because it includes our value perceptions, and because it can be understood by all the forest stakeholders and the public.

While I listened to this discussion I remembered the root meaning of the word health. It is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "hale" meaning whole or wholeness. Our challenge is to learn to see the whole forest, with all of its natural and human processes related to growth-death-renewal. So far, we have only had glimpses into the complex and reciprocal relations involved in the dynamics of forest ecology, and into the roles we can play in contributing to the larger ecology of forests.

There is a danger in using the term forest health if it steers people toward thinking that a healthy forest consists of green growing trees. By refusing to accept diseased and dying trees, we can disrupt the natural processes that renew forests and provide homes for wildlife.

Maybe a resolution of this complex issue will come from new concepts of forests and our interrelations with forested land that go beyond our self-interests, so that our uses of forests work with the whole circle of life-death-renewal.

Vision Statements

After reports were made at the team tables on the concurrent dialogue sessions, the Congress hall facilitators said that the next assignment would be to review drafts of the revised vision statements that we had worked on. Standing on the stage behind the facilitators was a team of 12 volunteers who had synthesized the suggested revisions and edited them into new vision statements. Several volunteers stepped forward to explain how they did the work. The approach they used involved looking for themes in the suggested revisions and then weaving the common ideas together into the vision statements. They also tried to retain the original vision ideas from the pre-congress meetings.

It was good to hear directly from the people who did the difficult job of synthesizing ideas and editing the statements. We saw that they were fellow participants, not distant controllers of the process who were changing what we said. We also empathized with and appreciated the hard work they had done to deliver the revised vision statements.

As my table team started going over the vision statements, we saw that many of our suggestions had been incorporated. But in some cases, our revisions had been diluted or left out. All the other table teams probably had the same experience. When over 1,100 persons are involved in drafting statements, there are going to be a lot of compromises.

But the revised statements and the ones that had been added as vision enhancements were, in general, better in concept and wording than the originals. As it turned out, the overall voting of green (agree), yellow (mixed feelings, but can live with) and red (disagree) on the statements gave mainly greens to all but two of the thirteen vision statements.

The two statements with the least agreement were both unsettling to established ways of using forests and not well conceived or worded.

Here are the two statements:

  • "In the future, our forests will provide a sustainable level of products and benefits that satisfy society's needs because of contributions from more efficient utilization, recycling, and other efforts to reduce consumption."

  • "In the future, our forests will be managed on the basis of a stewardship ethic with respect, reverence, and humility."

    The forest landowners at my table didn't care for the statement on reducing consumption because it directly threatened their interests as forest products suppliers. They had, however, agreed the day before on a revision of this statement that had been composed at our table. It read: "In the future, forest consumer products will be used in more efficient ways that contribute to sustainable forests." Perhaps the key to finding common agreement is to create forward-looking and positive approaches that account for everyone's concerns.

    The second statement on respect, reverence and humility had the tone of a moral commandment. That is an effective way to end a discussion. One person at my table interpreted the statement as being told he had to worship trees.

    There are much better ways of expressing the need to relate to forests with respect. Again, Aldo Leopold said this well in the quotation noted earlier: "When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."


    In the afternoon of the second day we reconvened at our team tables to work on principles, general guidelines for achieving the visions that had been agreed on. This work turned out to be the most arduous assignment of the Forest Congress. The instructions were complex and the 19 principles we began with, which came from the pre-congress roundtables and meetings and individual suggestions, grew into 61 ideas for principles by the end of the day.

    We were given the opportunity to not only revise the existing principles but also add missing ones. Most of this work went on in Principles Sessions. The table team members were asked to select and attend one of the sessions. There were sessions for each of the 19 principles plus a session for missing principles.

    I attended the session on missing principles. At a number of moments in this session and other ones, the work process went to the edge of breaking down. There were two main problems: too many ideas and no ready-made way of coping with them.

    When the moments of difficulty arose and the Congress facilitators seemed to be overwhelmed by the complexities, it was heartening to see people in the various work groups find and suggest ways out of the confusion. People were taking responsibility for the Forest Congress process, rather than letting it fragment into incoherence. They were making it a Citizens' Congress.

    Day Three
    Confirming Principles -- National & Back-Home Next Steps

    The principles work continued back at the Congress table teams for most of the third day of the Congress. At the beginning of the morning session, the Congress hall facilitators, having learned from feedback they received on the problems that arose in the principles sessions, asked the table teams to define their own work processes. So, each table team created its own ways of reviewing and discussing the 61 principles, and then voted on them.

    At my table team, there were diverse views on most of the principles, with general agreement on a little over a third of them. This turned out to be a general reflection of the tallied voting of all the table teams.

    As with the vision statements, the more general principles that related to a wide range of interests were the ones with the most green votes. For example, "Voluntary cooperation and coordination among individuals, landowners, communities, organizations and governments is encouraged to achieve shared ecosystem goals."

    There were also high levels of agreement on statements of principle that captured key concerns. For instance, "Natural resource issues should be resolved by peaceful means."

    The whole process of voting was effective for discovering what people agreed upon, which was the main aim of the Forest Congress. But it had some disadvantages. New perceptions of forests and of our relations with forested places could be easily put aside if they did not fit into popular views. In other words, it was not an effective process for creating new ideas.

    Even though I was highly concerned about this disadvantage of the Forest Congress process, the advantages of arriving at common agreements seemed to balance everything out. I began to think that the new ideas could be developed later, once people got to know and trust one another through finding out what they agreed on. Maybe this is a wise way of doing things.

    There is still a danger though that once the more comfortable and popular ideas are agreed on, they might become institutionalized habits and make it difficult to introduce new thinking. (This has happened, for example, with the concept of sustainable development.)

    National and Back-Home Next Steps

    After lunch, there was a change of subject from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. when we went to what were called our Home Tables, which were grouped according to home states or regions. This was the only time we convened at our home tables. Our assignment was to develop ideas for national next steps for the Forest Congress, and for personal initiatives we could carry out in our home places.

    The ideas suggested at my home table for national next steps included the organizing of a World Forest Congress at the turn of the century. Two examples of ideas for individual initiatives were: "Talking with people where one lives on the approach of coming together as citizens to develop ideas and projects for conserving, using and protecting forests." And "Getting to know public and private forest users (forest industry companies and forest farmers) in the region where one lives, so that one can see issues and concerns from their perspectives."

    When we returned to our team tables in the late afternoon we were tired. So tired that we could hardly carry out the last assignment of the day, which involved grouping the 61 principles into theme categories and writing supporting statements for each category. At my table team, where only five out of the nine-person team assembled, we only had energy to develop theme categories for the 61 principles.

    By 5:00 p.m. when the Congress hall facilitators asked for volunteers to work that evening on synthesizing and writing up the categories of principles and the accompanying support statements, only three persons came forward. Almost everyone felt drained and numbed from too much work. (Later, however, more people volunteered and the work got done.)

    Day Four
    Reviewing Visions & Principles -- Participant Feedback -- Inspirational Talk -- Individual Commitments -- Conflicts & Resolutions

    The final day of the Congress consisted of one session from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon. We met at our team tables to review the Visions we had developed, the agreed-upon Principles, which had been grouped into 19 categories, and to listen to selected national and individual next steps that had been suggested during the Home Table sessions.

    Participant Feedback

    Then, we were asked to carry out two assignments. The first one involved completing a Congress feedback form with three points:

    What I have personally learned or benefited from by being here:

  • The strength of our table was:
  • The progress I feel the Congress has made toward helping America's forests is:

    Each of us took 5 minutes to write our thoughts on these points. Then, we had 30 minutes to share our individual answers with our table team, and write a table statement that summarized what we considered the most important points.

    I thought the strength of our table was: "An openness to other views, and the straightforward expression of thoughts and feelings." There was common agreement on this, and on the responses to the points made by others, which showed that everyone valued what we had done and learned together.

    I also thought that I had benefited from "listening to and learning from people's different perspectives"; and that the Congress had made progress toward, "The development of broader understandings of issues and possible solutions through dialogue among diverse interests. That is, towards learning to work with each other in complementary ways."

    The second assignment was to complete a form to give advice to the Congress Office and Board of Directors on what they could do to support the back-home next steps. We had 25 minutes to brainstorm and write 2 to 5 advice statements.

    Our statements of advice were:

  • Make politicians aware of the suggestions of the Congress participants and of the need to accept them.
  • Provide state politicians with lists of all the Congress participants from their respective states, and provide lists of contact persons. Send a copy of this participant information to every senator and house representative.
  • Contact national, state and county Boards of Supervisors.
  • Contact and meet with editorial boards of the media (newspapers, TV and radio) to brief them on what happened at the Forest Congress. (Need positive and balanced media coverage to let the public know what went on at the Congress and what the results were.)
  • Contact local and regional community associations and other groups iinterested in forests to arrange briefings on the Forest Congress process, results and ongoing work.
  • Send copies of the Forest Congress report to all public libraries.
  • Also send the report to all senators and house representatives, and to all public officials, from state to national levels of government.
  • Keep all the participants aware of the ongoing Forest Congress work. For example, through the Internet and public interest organizations such as American Forests. Also set up contact people in each state for up-to-date information.
  • Keep participants informed on Congress Office plans, decisions and actions on a yearly basis.

    Inspirational Talk

    The next agenda item was a talk called "A Sense of Community" by Jamie Pinkham of the Nez Perce Tribe and Intertribal Timber Council.

    He was an engaging and vibrant speaker, who, in the tradition of the native peoples of North America, spoke with a good sense of humour.

    His talk flowed with themes related to moving forward with both new ideas and traditional values to create better relations with each other and with forests. Listening between the lines, one could sense a vision: People and forests living in community.

    He spoke of the importance of honouring nature. My people, he said, are often referred to as the first natural resource managers in America. But the reality was that nature managed us, as it still does.

    As he noted, his people learned to work with and honour nature, rather than attempting to control it. This is the approach he uses as a land manager for his Nez Perce Tribe.

    He thought that the process of working together at the Forest Congress would help everyone to meet the challenges ahead. What counts, he said, is the spirit of going forward, which is in each of us.

    The primary source of inspiration for change, he noted, is in the spiritual reality of life. We usually come into touch with this reality through the two main elements of life: the birth of children and the change of going from this world to the next.

    It is important to remind ourselves of these main elements of the circle of life, so that what we do between them in our daily living contributes to creating balanced relations with nature that will sustain our children and their children.

    He noted that there might be some significance in the number of this Seventh Forest Congress. In his culture the number seven is used to speak of a seventh place of balance among the six directions of life on Earth (East, West, North, South, Sky and Ground). Native people also think and plan ahead for the Seventh Generation of children or grandchildren.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Jamie Pinkham's talk was a good reminder of the benefits of learning from the traditional ways of life of native peoples. He also showed through his talk how the traditional approaches to learning and the methods of science can be combined to create new ways of seeing forests and people's relations with forest communities.


    For the last half hour of the Forestry Congress the table teams were asked to write Individual Commitments and Table Team Commitments for what people would do back home to continue the work we had begun.

    Our table team commitment was:

    "Encourage community conversations as a basis for dialogues, to which everyone is invited, to help create broad understanding of concerns and proposals for change (and do this regardless of those who attempt to impose their agendas and special interests on others)."

    The Congress hall facilitators chose some twenty participants from different tables to read the table team commitments, and individual commitments. A forest landowner at my table was one of them. His own individual commitments were exceptional and received long applause from the Congress participants.

    I can't recall his exact words, and won't attempt to paraphrase him. Perhaps it will be enough to say that he spoke of how he was committed to working in his community and on his forested land to sustaining and enhancing the life of both people and forests, now and for the next generations. It was an honour to be sitting at the same table with him.

    The same man had earlier said something that captured the importance of the first step we made at the Forest Congress towards learning to work with others. He said that if he got into a forest use conflict with conservationists at home, he would be more confident about being able to resolve it, if the conservation advocates were persons he had come to know and trust beforehand through roundtable discussions.

    Conflicts and Resolutions

    Not everyone at the Forest Congress learned to work with others in new ways. Some people came to the Congress angry with specific agendas. They didn't come to listen and exchange ideas, but rather to be heard.

    When one listened to the stories these people told of how forests in their home places had been clear cut through the bending and misuse of federal forestry laws, one couldn't help but understand their anger.

    But their behaviour at the Forest Congress also made it clear that anger, which is a natural response to abuse and other unacceptable acts, is not by itself productive. When the energy of anger is not expressed in sensible ways, it doesn't move us forward, but rather keeps us stuck in animosity and results in widespread distrust.

    Some of the angry people did things to get attention that made others angry, such as interrupting the table team discussions by using a Congress microphone to announce an impromptu press conference outside the meeting hall. To these people, the Congress was a "smoke screen" to hide the real issue -- the clear cutting of forests by irresponsible forest industry companies.

    Even though there were probably grains of truth in this inflamed perception -- some forest companies may be looking for publicly acceptable ways to continue doing what they have done for years -- angry confrontation is not likely to change things.

    It was most unfortunate that the protesters forgot the primary aim of the Congress: to find out what we agree on, so that common ground could be developed for protecting, using and restoring forests.

    If only the energy that is wasted on anger could go into developing enlivening ways of working together and with forests, and of reminding each other of our important relations with nature. This is perhaps the most effective way to prevent and stop irresponsible uses of forests.

    Most people at the Forest Congress did see new openings for living well together in relations of respect for forests. The development of such openings can keep us moving forward with a spirit of goodwill and understanding, over and around the barriers of poor forest use and unproductive anger, toward creative ways of living with each other in the larger forest communities of the land.

    This is what I learned by participating in the Seventh American Forest Congress. I learned too that living well together in congruity with nature is an ever-continuing journey. There is no final point of arrival in the unfolding process of people living in community with forests.

    Forward: Living in Community with Forests

    There were moments of doubt at the Forest Congress, in myself and in
    general among fellow participants, on whether people can actually
    see and act beyond self-concerns,
    in complementarity

    With so much evidence to the contrary
    it is often difficult to keep moving forward with
    promising openings for change

    Back in everyday life with media headlines focusing on dramatic
    conflicts between all the interest groups, it is hard to remember the
    common ground and agreements people developed together in the Forest
    Were they real or a dream?

    Hey, the Forest Congress and all the agreements people created through
    roundtable dialogues are just as real as
    the continuing conflicts preventing people from living and working in
    community with each other and nature

    To keep moving forward, one simply has to live what was learned in the
    roundtable conversations
    There is a saying: to have community one must live as if
    there is community.

    Yes, a most important discovery in the Forest Congress was
    the sense of community in and among people
    A sense of human community, and a growing sense of living within
    a larger forest community

    In most people, there is a deep commonality of concern and a
    creative energy that can be encouraged to unfold and develop
    This deeper concern and energy flows as a river
    with endless capacity for carrying us around the
    immovable obstacles of conflict

    Maybe the most helpful reminders of the potential for moving forward
    are forests themselves
    A forest grows and prospers through a process of its residents living and
    working together in community
    Each of the various natural forms and processes of the community
    contributes to sustaining the whole forest
    This is done not by acting in self-interest, but rather through acting with
    both independence and interdependence, in mutually beneficial relations,
    in fine ever-changing balance among the physical-living processes of
    a forest, including recomposing for next generations

    We too live this way, when
    working & living well together
    It is in
    our nature

    Creating Citizens' Roundtable Projects:
    A Summary of Guidelines

    Here is a summary of ideas for creating roundtable dialogues. These guidelines are based on what I learned through participating in the Forest Congress. Included in these points are thoughts on ways to improve the processes of learning to live, work and plan in community with the land.

  • Begin by networking with friends, colleagues and fellow residents to create a core of committed people. It is good to have a core of ten to twelve people with a wide range of experience in the social, cultural, community, economic and ecological spheres of life.

  • Contact not only people involved in organizations and groups, but also individuals who have initiated innovative public, private, community or personal projects. For example, invite individual citizens who are doing interesting voluntary work in their communities, and invite writers, poets, painters, dancers and others working in the arts.

  • Make it a process where everyone is invited to participate as a citizen, rather than as a representative of an interest group or as a stakeholder. These terms do not encourage people to think beyond their own concerns, or to see their concerns in new ways.

  • Make it clear that everyone's concerns, including those of public, private and community interest groups, are important and will be discussed. This will be done, however, in a new way. That is, concerns will be explored from a broad perspective of being a citizen and a resident of the land. It can be noted that seeing life as a citizen living in community with fellow citizens, within the larger ecology of the land, gives us one of the broadest possible perspectives. We are then attending to every element of life, from personal, family and community concerns to social, cultural, economic and ecological aspirations.

  • Ask people to come with open minds, not with set agendas. Say the main purpose is to explore and learn through talking together.

  • Assign eight to ten people to each roundtable in a way that results in a diversity of backgrounds and perceptions. Ask people to make a commitment to stay at the same table for the whole process. This gives people the time needed to develop working bonds and a sense of community.

  • At the beginning of roundtable gatherings, ask people to introduce themselves and say why they are participating. Then, ask each person to express her or his hopes for how people will talk and listen to each other. This is important for setting a tone of goodwill and a spirit of open listening to other views.

  • Ask two people to volunteer for the roles a conversation facilitator or care taker and a recorder. Say that everyone will be asked to take turns in these two roles.

  • Start the roundtable conversations by exploring ways to develop the broad perspective of seeing ourselves as living, working and planning together in community with the land.

  • One way of beginning to develop this perspective is to ask people to tell stories of experiences where they have felt in community with fellow citizens, and where they have felt close relationships with nature.

  • Once people have developed together an understanding of living in community with each other and the land, and have written a satisfying expression of this perspective, begin working on the aims and subjects of the roundtable meeting.

  • Design purposeful work with clear instructions and give people time to discuss each subject in-depth. But don't over-instruct. Give people room to improvise on the work processes and to change them if they are not suitable.

  • Start with an assignment where people are asked to state FEEL GOOD and FEEL NOT SO GOOD expressions about the general subject of discussion. This is useful for bringing out people's basic concerns and ideas. Then ask everyone to vote for the top three feelings in each category, and to select the number one feeling in each of the top three. This is helpful for discovering common ground perceptions.

  • In the discussions of feelings, ask someone, other than the recorder, to make notes on important shared perceptions coming out of the general discussion that are not written on the flip chart. These can then be written as additions to the statements of feelings.

  • Then, begin work assignments for three activities: Development of Aims Statements, Principles for Achieving Aims, and Action Steps. Design the work assignments in ways that encourage exploration through dialogue. For example, propose a question and ask people to discuss it together.

  • Rather than developing visions, which tend to be generalities without much substance, it might be better to develop insights -- new ways of seeing life. For example, insights into our how we are interrelated with each other and with the larger communities of the land. This can be done by first examining our conventional ways of seeing life, such as thinking of "our forests," and exploring beyond this perception through dialogue. These explorations might lead to seeing ourselves as part of the larger forest communities of the land, rather than as owners of them.

  • Be aware of cultural conditioning that orients us mainly towards finding ways to use forests and other forms of nature. Ask what we can be do for forests. For example, what can we do to contribute to enhancing forest communities?

  • It is important to work on expressing aims and insights in direct, concise and evocative language. Avoid scientific and technical jargon, and cliches. Use the same approach for writing expressions of principles and action steps.

  • Aim to make the written statements positive and forward-looking. Write statements that relate to everyone's concerns.

  • Writing statements that have the tone of moral commandments is an effective way to offend people and end dialogues.

  • Invite writers, poets and experienced editors to help with the synthesizing and revising of insights, aims, principles and actions.

  • Allow time for in-depth reviewing of insights, aims, principles and action steps.

  • It is good to take a break from the roundtable conversations by going to concurrent dialogue sessions on a wide range of subjects. This helps to broaden perspectives and deepen knowledge of the roundtable aims and concerns. Invite speakers who have experience and fresh approaches in the areas being discussed. Ask them to give presentations and to facilitate questions and discussions.

  • In sessions for developing principles for achieving aims, there is likely to be an overflow of ideas. Develop in advance ways to sort out and select the best principle statements.

  • One way to sort out principle statements is to make quality the main determinant for selection. Quality of the idea -- broad and effective; and quality of expression -- direct, concise and evocative.

  • Aim for principles that get to the essences of what is needed to achieve aims, and that relate to a wide range of people's concerns.

  • Be careful of catering to comfortable and popular views for the sake of achieving consensus. This can close off explorations of new and creative ideas.

  • On the last day of the roundtable meeting, after the aims, insights and principles have been developed, start working on the action steps. Do this work by asking people what they want to do through public, private, community and personal initiatives in the places where they live. This will help to ground the action steps in the reality of people's lives.

  • Near the end of the last day, ask everyone to assess the whole roundtable meeting, in terms of working processes and what was achieved. This feedback will be valuable for learning to make improvements at further roundtable meetings.

  • It is good to end the meeting with a talk from an inspirational speaker. Select a person with a good sense of humour and with creative insight into the aims and subjects of the meeting.


    Creating a convivial atmosphere at roundtable meetings contributes to encouraging people to open up and work well together. Two key ingredients for conviviality are good food and refreshments. It is important to find a talented caterer.

    Another important part of bringing people together, usually not well attended to at conferences and meetings, is to arrange socializing times where people can meet and get to know each other. Assign a number of persons to act as hosts to introduce people.

    Arrange a number of these social times during the whole meeting, not just at the beginning or end. For example, during coffee and lunch breaks make rooms available where people can take their coffee or lunch and meet others.

    Meeting, getting to know and laughing with other people is one of the most important parts of learning to live well together. It helps to create a spirit of openness.

    Developing our capacity for personal and social openness can orient us toward living in community with the land. Being open with each other is in congruity with the character and spirit of forest communities, where all of the residents are living-working-playing together in a multiplicity of interweaving relations. So, living with a spirit of openness can move us to live in mutually beneficial relations with nature.

    When we live together this way, in complex and beautiful patterns of complementarity with each other and the land, we are then part of the ever-unfolding creative process of life.


    The Seventh American Forest Congress brought people together in an innovative roundtable process. Thank you to all of the people who initiated and organized the Congress. Thanks also to the volunteers who managed and facilitated the Congress with skill and grace.

    Special thanks go to the persons on my table team. They discussed the subjects of the Congress with an open spirit of learning. The perceptions and ideas they expressed inspired and grounded much of the writing in the report.

    Thank you also to the helpful participants and speakers I met in the other sessions of the Congress. They shared insights and suggestions that broadened my understanding of forest concerns and of potential ways to resolve them.

    Larry Ravitz, a new friend in Washington, and Susan Bogach, my wife and partner in life, read drafts of the report and provided many helpful editorial comments. Thank you to both of them for giving their time and skills as readers and editors. Any further improvements or corrections needed in the report are my own responsibility.

    Thank you to the forests of the places I have lived for giving insights into ways of growing and living well in community. These forests include the Northwest Coast Rainforest in the Greater Vancouver area, the Northeastern Leafy-Evergreen Forests of the lower Ottawa River region in the Greater Ottawa area, and, most recently, the Mid-Atlantic Mixed Leafy Forests of the Potomac-Anacostia River region in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

    I would also like to thank friends, colleagues and fellow residents in Greater Ottawa who I have worked with in developing ecological and citizen-based approaches to regional planning. I thought of them often during the writing of the report. Thinking of them and what they might want to learn from the report, gave me a broad and well-grounded perspective for selecting what to write on.


    For further information on the continuing activities of the Forest Congress and to request a copy of the official report, contact:

    Forest Congress Information Center
    205 Prospect Street
    New Haven, CT
    06511 USA

    Tel: (203) 432-5117
    FAX: (203) 432-3809

    World Wide Web home page

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