2019 Inland Empire and Montana SAF Leadership Academy
Lutherhaven Camp, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
February 15, 2019
Your conference seeks to encourage you to become better leaders.
That’s a good thing because leadership is sorely lacking in the forestry and forest products manufacturing worlds today.
Everyone seems to be going their own way.
There are no leaders and there is no script.
We are all freelancers doing our own thing in a world in which most now get their news through their favorite social media algorithms.
In a figurative sense, we are freebasing the truth, twisting it seven ways from Sunday in a futile effort to make facts fit our increasingly narrow views of the earth we share.
No wonder the public is confused about what forests are, what forestry is, and why the world ought to be consuming more wood products, not less.
No wonder Congress continues to walk down its own primrose path, seemingly oblivious to the terrible damage four decades of lousy forest policy have done to the West’s once great national forests.
I could go on like this for the next 40 minutes – but won’t.
Instead, I am going to tell you the Story of Evergreen, not because I enjoy talking about myself – I don’t – but because it is one of very few examples of the kind of leadership in forest communications that is missing today.
I started Evergreen Magazine 33 years ago with not the slightest thought as to whether it had a future. The immediate goal was to help a handful of southern Oregon lumber companies navigate the congressionally-mandated public comment periods that accompanied the rollout of the Forest Service’s first decadal forest plans.
Astonishingly, some of those plans have never been completed. Such is the terrible mess Congress created in its effort to appease environmental extremists for whom the entire planning process has become a lucrative feeding ground for lawyers.
Evergreen grew out of two meetings I attended in Medford, Oregon as a guest of the Board of Directors of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.
Save for Boise Cascade, SOTIA’s members were all much smaller second and third generation lumber companies owned by families.
An old friend who knew of my long career in public relations invited me to attend in hopes I could offer the association’s members some ideas for engagement in the public comment periods on six national forests.
At the time, I was living in Lake Oswego. Most of my time was devoted to caring for my parents, who were both in their final illnesses.
Mainly to get out of the house for a day, I agreed to make the trip to Medford.
In fact, I went twice. There was so much hand-wringing at the first meeting that I never got a chance to speak, so they invited me back the following month.
At the end of the second hand-wringing session, I spoke long enough to recommend that SOTIA’s directors start their own communications program.
When asked why I said, “Because the press will never give you an even break, so you need a program that allows you to pick your audiences, shape your messages and control their timing.”
As I rose to leave for the trip back to Lake Oswego, a trucker spoke from the back of the room in a voice that sounded like he’d been gargling cement.
The voice said, “Well sonny, that’s a hell of an idea, but there isn’t a sonofabitch in the room who knows how to do it. Would you?”
A second voice said, “I’ll think about it.”
That voice was mine, and why I said what I said is still a mystery to me. But by the time I got home four hours later I had convinced myself it was a hell of an idea.
We published our first edition of Evergreen in the fall of 1986.
It folded out into an 18 by 24-inch poster, and was modeled after Green America, a beautiful publication from the long-gone American Paper Institute, which was then run by a genius named George Cheek.
For reasons I never understood, Green America soon folded, so the playing field was ours alone.
Not everyone thought Evergreen was a great idea. In fact, some members of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association thought it was a terrible waste of time and money, so it was good that the organization’s board of directors decided that contributions would be voluntary.
Our critics were so determined that they were right and we were wrong that they quietly hired Bob Moore, a Portland pollster, to prove their case.
I got wind of their plan and called Bob Moore and asked if he’d be willing to throw in a few neutral questions about readership and retention rates.
“Sure,” he said. And he did. I suspect he was amused by my resourcefulness.
About a month later, Bob’s 75-page report arrived at SOTIA’s office in Medford.
The executive summary forever silenced our critics.
Among other things, Moore discovered that Evergreen’s readership rate – a measure of how much time readers were spending with each issue – was higher than those for TIME, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report.
Equally pleasing, more than half our readers were keeping Evergreen on file and using it as a quotable source in public meetings and Letters to Editors.
Readers also liked our mission statement, which hasn’t changed in 33 years. It is 16 words long and I wrote it in about one minute.
We are here to help restore public confidence and support for science-based forestry and forest policy.
When asked to compare us to other publications they received, a surprising number of those surveyed said our generous use of photographs that told stories reminded them of National Geographic. A high compliment for sure.
I know for a fact that, 33 years later, some of our readers continue to add our periodic print editions to their collections.
Suffice it to say, Evergreen grew like crazy, despite a complete breakdown in the Forest Service’s planning process. By 1990, we had 100,000 readers scattered across these United States.
We inserted forest plan comment check-off cards in all our early editions in hopes of encouraging citizen input – the goal being to hold annual harvest levels as high as possible on the six national forests that spanned the economies of southwest Oregon and northern California.
In due course, the Forest Service began to complain about having to log all the comments we generated. I might have complained too had I known that we had generated 1.1 million comments, but I didn’t know, so we just kept hammering.
To blunt our efforts, the Forest Service announced that it would only accept “substantive” – preferably hand-written – comments concerning its proposed forest plans.
When news of this ill-conceived idea reached, Mark Hatfield, who was then Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senator went ballistic, and the Forest Service was soon logging comments the old-fashioned way.
After the northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species in June of 1990, Oregon-based support for Evergreen began to decline as, one by one, the companies that had supported us went out of business amid the slow-motion collapse of the federal timber sale program.
By then, more than half our annual budget was coming from other parts of the United States. To capitalize on this unfolding opportunity, I sold my southern Oregon home, bought a 42-foot Teton fifth-wheel, and toured the United States for three years, publishing Evergreen from the road. The experience was easily the finest forestry education I could have ever received. I am still drawing on the intellectual reserves I built up while touring America’s forested states.
One might legitimately ask why West Coast support for Evergreen went into free fall after the northern spotted owl was listed. It would be easy to blame the owl listing, but I don’t.
In hindsight, the seeds of collapse were sewn about the same time I started Evergreen. The old vertically-integrated forest products companies that fueled the industry’s advancement for more than 100 years began to fall by the wayside after Plum Creek formed the industry’s first Real Estate Investment Trust in 1999.
The story here is too long to tell, but the result was that other companies that owned both timberland and manufacturing facilities soon followed Plum Creek down the path toward 32-year rotations that, in my view, aren’t sustainable as a forestry or a business model. Weyerhaeuser was the last holdout.
The advent of REITS and Timber Investment Management Organizations – or TIMOS – has fractured the forest products industry into small and unrecognizable pieces. Worse, the pieces no longer speak in one voice.
In fact, some of the voices speak against any realistic effort to pull western national forests back from the brink of ecological collapse – and it is this transition from truth-telling to corporate greed that I abhor.
High-priced lobbyists, most paid by Washington, D.C. law firms, are responsible.
I saw the damage they were doing first-hand while working on the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act. How anyone with a conscience could argue against rescuing the West’s national forests from their fiery deaths is beyond me. But then I remind myself that lobbyists will do anything for money.
I worked day and night on the public outreach pieces of the HFRA for more than 2 years. It remains the only measurable professional accomplishment I can cite in my 33 years in forestry’s front-line trench.
You would think I would be discouraged by now, but I’m not. Our wildfire crisis has finally reached deep into places like Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, and all the beautiful people are beginning to ask what the hell is wrong.
We have a great story to tell them – and we best get busy with the telling because time is short. My fire ecologist friends tell me we have no more than 30 years left in which to pull 90 million acres back from hell fires that are destroying not just our forest heritage but also our forest future.
We are currently doing some video-taping in Portland and Seattle, asking randomly selected folks walking down streets what they think about our wildfire pandemic. To a person, they believe something needs to be done soon, but they don’t know what it is.
It is our job – yours, mine and ours – to answer their questions about what can be done. This is called leadership – and it is one of forestry’s core assets that began to fade away with the formation of REITS and TIMOS.
Today, Evergreen is a much different creature than it was 33 years ago. When we started out, there was no Internet and there were no laptops or cell phones, just landlines, fax machines and clunky old desktop computers that took about five minutes to boot up.
My new desktop, an IBUYPOWER GEFORCE RTX, whatever the hell all this means, starts up instantly with the push of one-button.
I have several file folders filled with unsolicited letters from readers I don’t know. Most write to say thanks for the work we do. If there is a common thread running through them it is that most people want to know the unvarnished truth about forestry. Political correctness and six-second sound bites don’t cut it with our society’s thinkers and doers.
You can’t pander to these people and you can’t bullshit them, but you can help them marshal and strengthen their own public dialogue.
This is what we do. It is hard work, which is why we have no imitators. There are no short cuts and there are no silver bullets.
This is also the part that can’t be measured in board feet or bone-dry tons, but it can be measured in the loss of public confidence in the U.S. Forest Service, and it can be measured in the fact that the federal timber sale program is a mere shadow of its former self.
The bottom line here is that most Americans don’t know who or what to believe about forests and forestry. For nearly 40 years, forestry’s critics have filled their heads and hearts with stories that simply aren’t true.
The misappropriation and misrepresentation of the climate change dialogue is the latest example. I know of no issue that more forcefully argues the case for forestry than the wildfire/carbon sequestration dialogue, yet that is not how forestry’s critics have framed the issue.
But there are a few glimmers of hope – a sliver crack in the door in the Green New Deal laid out in a congressional hearing last week. We know that some Democrats read our stuff because when Bernie Sanders was still in the race for the White House his campaign staff contacted us. Had he been the nominee, we would have helped him in a heartbeat. Saving our national forests should not be a politically divisive issue.
Someone asked if we still print Evergreen. Yes, if our budget permits, but we are mainly a website outfit now. My wife, Julia, will talk more about this in a few minutes. She is our resource director and runs our social media program and knows far more about it than I will ever know – or perhaps care to know.
I am an old print guy, which explains why we subscribe to three daily newspapers and a half-dozen monthly magazines. Learning occurs when I am holding print in my hands. Cell phones, though convenient, aren’t for me a good learning tool. But I know that our millennials, and Generations X,Y and Z rely on them for their news, so we attempt to reach them through our website and Facebook.
If you haven’t looked at our website – www.evergreenmagazine.com – you should. My brother-in-law, who is a big-time web designer in Seattle, tells me we have more content than any similar site he’s seen. In the Internet world content is king.
I no longer write daily for our website, as I did for years, because I prefer more thoughtful writing that takes time to develop. The “Felt Necessities” series on our site is a good example. I am tracing the colorful history of America’s conservation movement, which began while Lincoln was still president.
Julia posts articles most days on our Facebook page. I don’t have a Facebook account, mainly because it is all I can do to answer the 20 or 30 emails I get every day. If our website analytics are correct, we have about 100,000 followers scattered around the world.
How one harnesses such a far-flung audience is hard to know, but we know many of our users share our stories with their proprietary networks, but I still long for the days when we made the Forest Service howl.
This winter I am writing a book describing our wildfire/forest health crisis – how we got into it and how we got out of it. The book is tentatively titled First, Put out the Fire!” I hope to finish it by the end of May. I’d like to read a short section from a chapter titled, “With all thy getting, get understanding,” a directive from Proverbs 4:7, King James Version
First, Put Out the Fire will help you understand why killing wildfires are sweeping the West’s national forests – the ones you and I own.
Reveal why our changing climate isn’t the only reason why we are facing a wildfire pandemic in the West.
Dissect the compounding killing power of climate change in forests: drought, insects, diseases and inevitable wildfire.
Offer suggestions on what we can do proactively to stuff the Bad Wildfire Genie back in her bottle so the Good Fire Genie can do its’ work.
Clarify the world of difference between “fuels management” and “forest management.”
“Fuels management” relies on Good Fire to reduce woody debris accumulations before the Bad Wildfire Genie strikes.
“Forest management” removes dead and dying trees before they burn.
Demonstrate how we can make Good Fire a very useful tool for increasing natural forest resistance to larger and more destructive wildfires.
Explain why fuels management does not by itself address the urgent need to restart the growth process in forests that are sick and dying because they hold too many trees for the natural carrying capacity of the land.
Document strategies for restarting the growth process and restoring natural resiliency in our forests by first strategically removing dead and dying trees from targeted forest areas before they burn.
Used as a “1-2”combination, helping, hands-on intervention [removing sick and dying trees] and Good Fire [reducing accumulating woody debris]are our most reliable science-based tools for stuffing the Bad Wildfire Genie back in its bottle.
Alert you to the cancer-causing chemicals in the wildfire smoke we westerners breathe for months on end every year. It turns out that our lungs aren’t the best place to store carbon.
Decipher carbon sequestration by explaining how the free, non-polluting energy of the sun powers photosynthesis, a natural process that puts food on your table, clothes on your back and a roof over your head – while storing carbon in all the best places.
Introduce you to some amazing and sustainable product uses for all those trees that we need to remove from our forests before they burn. This is where we need to be storing carbon, not in our lungs.
Provide you with the social media platforms you need to become an agent of change in your community.
Relentless pressure relentlessly applied is central to forcing Congress to take the legislative and regulatory steps necessary to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in our national forests.
Teach you how to set up a local collaborative group to work with the Forest Service on projects that restore natural resiliency in public forests near you. Congress has blessed the blossoming partnerships between the Forest Service and local stakeholders – that’s you and me.
Detail my own Green New Deal. The resurrection of the CCC’s – the old Civilian Conservation Corps launched in 1933 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression Era New Deal is the perfect model – and the perfect place to start is in our western national forests.
Talk about a great jobs program for strong backs and creative minds dedicated to rescuing our nation’s forest heritage from the ravages of insect and disease infestations and inevitable wildfire.
Don’t buy all the nonsense about our wildfire pandemic being “the new normal.” You are surrendering to dangerous and unnatural forces that are anything but normal. Stand up for America’s forest legacy!
This is my fifth book. I am writing it out of my great dismay with the enormous amount of misinformation, disinformation and plain old lying that washes over my Internet transom almost daily. It’s appalling and very destructive to a public discourse that might otherwise be very constructive.
What is missing from the public discourse is a common defense of forestry.
Let me repeat that: what is missing from the public discourse is a common defense of forestry – a series of easily understood statements about forestry’s historic environmental and economic contributions to our nation’s advancement.
Of the many losses promulgated by the formation of REITS and TIMOS, this loss is by far the greatest – the loss of forestry’s one voice, a voice that spoke clearly, concisely, honestly and frequently.
We try, but I often feel like we are shouting down a rain barrel.
Nick Smith tries with his daily news digest, which I find quite valuable. But I frankly doubt that the grass roots coalitions we formed in the 1980s can be reconstructed. Their orbit was the cluster of family-owned mills formed after World War II that relied on the federal timber sale program.
That program is gone now, and won’t return, the mills are gone and won’t return minus a federal guarantee of supply, which is probably a bridge too far, and so I think rebuilding the old coalitions is probably not possible.
But new and more diverse coalitions are forming: the locally driven forest collaboratives, congressionally blessed in the 2014 Farm Bill.
Were it not for the glowing political magnetism that has accompanied their rise, I don’t know where we’d be today.
We have been following the story of their rise and their success since we moved the Evergreen Foundation from Oregon to Idaho four years ago.
The collaboratives we follow in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana remind me of the title of the Steven Ambrose’s remarkable book about the construction of the transcontinental railroad: Nothing Like It in the World.
And indeed, these unpaid, all volunteer collaborative groups have made more progress in linking our nation’s east and west coasts than any other program since the 1905 formation of our national forest system.
The collaboratives – which borrow generously from the old New England Town Hall model – are bringing together forest user groups that are the embodiment of a new western lifestyle built around four felt necessities:
-Abundant fish and wildlife habitat
-A wealth of year-round outdoor recreation opportunity.
These are not forest amenities that can be found amid black sticks and rubble that are the calling cards that Nature leaves behind in burned-out forests.
But they are found in abundance in forests that are well cared for by foresters and landowners for whom bridging the gap between the art and science of forestry is more important – and certainly more ethical – than the time cost of money or internal rates of return that drive REITS and TIMOS.
The forest collaboratives that are working hard to restore natural resiliency in western national forests are providing a kind of leadership, inspiration and voice that merit the support of our entire nation, and we at Evergreen are doing everything in our power to lift them up before the public’s scattered gaze.
This coming together of people who represent different values, cultures and beliefs has been a joy to watch.
Think about this: people who admit they didn’t trust one another when they came together have rallied around their shared desire to save federal forests from the ravages of terrible wildfires and even worse public policy.
Everyone in this room is benefiting from their patience and creativity. Everyone.
But what they are accomplishing is a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to get accomplished over the next 30 years.
You can do the math here as easily as I can. The Forest Service estimates 90 million acres in its care are imperiled. Divide that number by the 30 years we have left to protect what can be protected.
The answer is three million – meaning we must treat three million acres annually.
How are we doing? Terribly. We aren’t treating even one-tenth of our imperiled national forest acres.
What does this mean? It means that if we don’t immediately pick up the pace, we will lose more than half the West’s national forests to insects, disease and wildfire over the next 30 years.
Picking up the pace means making sure Congress funds forest restoration on physical scales that are ecologically meaningful. This is a responsibility of every person in this room.
It requires that Congress clears away the regulatory and judicial roadblocks it has erected on the policy making front over the last 40 years. This is also our responsibility – yours and mine.
I am fully prepared to start naming the west’s wildfires after members of Congress who stand in the way of collaborative progress.
Yet another summer of carcinogenic wildfire smoke will soon be upon us.
Several million more acres will be lost in wildfires that could have been prevented but weren’t because we who are suffering the most amid our wildfire pandemic got discouraged, lost our way and then our voice.
I haven’t lost mine in 33 years and I hope you haven’t lost yours because the collaboratives need all our supporting voices. It’s time to saddle up and ride. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there.