Will 2014 be another year the forest products industry is defined by its critics?

Will 2014 be another year the forest products industry is defined by its criticsI was scanning news articles recently and came across one that immediately caught my eye. If you’ve been following my editor’s messages in our email newsletter recently, then you’ll know why the following headline got my attention:

Defined by critics, big ag restarts conversation

The content of this Associated Press article mirrors the concepts presented by Ketchum Public Relations and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance at our 2013 Small Log Conference in March. The two organizations detailed how farmers and ranchers have decided to do something about their poor public image by launching — not a fight — but a conversation with their critics and with the American public. FBN wrote a recent blog post about the growing interest within the forest products industry to do this very same thing, and I reminded our newsletter readers of this just the other day as I encouraged the industry to build collaboration and trust with all stakeholders.

I’d like to think big ag in the title could so easily be replaced with forest products industry — that our industry can be an active participant in the conversation by bringing the good news about our industry’s products, innovations, and forest management to a public that’s been wary of our ways for far too long. For that wariness we only have ourselves to blame. Let’s face it — our industry enjoys no national alliance like farmers and ranchers do, and has never fully committed to any national effort to communicate our message.

Of course, this is no easy feat. It’ll take unprecedented collaboration and ongoing commitment to build and maintain positive public perception. But I have to wonder:

Will 2014 be yet another year our industry is defined by its critics?

Should we continue to lose ground and public favor, or should we rally as an industry and actively work together to change the conversation? I’d love your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

Craig Rawlings

Craig Rawlings is the president & CEO of Forest Business Network and has 30 years experience in the forest products industry as an entrepreneur and technical consultant. He can be reached by calling 406.240.0300 or by using our contact form.

Comments

  1. Bob Williams CF says:

    Craig!
    Nothing is more important to our forests and the people that work in the forests than getting the so called forestry community to wake up and speak with all aspects of media about our green story! The forest industry suffers from”APATHY” , that has allowed anti forestry forces to define to the public what we are with lies, half truths and myths!
    Wake Up Folks and start to speak and write to the media – 24/7!!
    It is our only chance!!!
    Thanks for all that you do at The Forest Business Network Craig!!!

  2. Doug Snider says:

    Craig,

    Wonderful year end mussings! Is there a group within the industry that could hire the firm that has sold America on “Clean Natural Gas?” Possible with the involvement of the USFS. We as an industry do not have a person with the gravitas of a T. Boone Pickens to drive the forestry bus — but we should have a much better & cleaner story to tell and sell than the the one marketed by the Natural Gas Industry. Whomever did this job for the ethanol industry would not be on my list favorite firms to do the job.

    Thanks for the great work you do!

    Doug Snider

    • Craig Rawlings says:

      Thanks Doug and great idea on the forestry spokesperson, we hope FBN can take a major role in driving the bus. The US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) has taken the approach of having lot’s of bloggers from the ag sector to get their message out and it’s very effective. One of their big successes was getting featured on the Anderson Cooper show.

  3. Garrett Ous says:

    I agree. We need to change the converstion.
    For one example……
    Go to feapmn.com for an initiative to better explain forest management with teachers, students and the general public.

    • Craig Rawlings says:

      Thanks Garrett, I’m going to pass along the link to the management team of the Northwest Advanced Renewable Alliance (NARA) http://nararenewables.org/ FBN is involved with this project and there’s an education and outreach component including K-12 awareness.

  4. Dana Saucier says:

    Craig,
    You raise a point many in our industry have dialogued about for years, but were never able to make happen. I agree that our story and message(s) needs to be told – by us – instead of by our antagonists. I stand by the old saying, “it is far better to forge our future than to succumb to it”. It is necessary to make clear to the public at large that the forest industry is about the environment. However, the distinction that has to be made is that we are “conservationists” as opposed to “preservationists”. Our image as an industry has suffered badly and turning it around will require a journey and not a quick trip around the corner. Our flawed image is very much at the root of our troubles recruiting young folks into our industry, from foresters to equipment operators. The organizations that attempt to educate our teachers and they in turn our children are doing remarkable successful work, but it needs to be expanded and we need to sponsor this vital work to name but one endeavor. There are so many other things and ways we can impact this problem, but it will not happen without a concerted, organized effort and initiative on all of our parts. This is a big and important deal, but the “jawing” about it has to be translated into concerted unified action if we are to dent this issue.
    Thanks Craig for highlighting this matter and your work on our collective behalf.
    Dana Saucier

  5. Bryan Andrina says:

    There’s no doubt in my mind that the FBN is more than qualified to drive the bus for the campaign supporting the forest product industry. As a young Forester I feel the winds of change back to a strong support of Forest Management by both traditional conservationists as well as environmentalists. There’s too much evidence out there that lack of vegetation management produces negative results.

    I feel the FBN does a great job of compiling all the positive outcomes the forest product industry and public land management agencies have produced through collaboration, innovation, and public outreach. We as Forest Industry professionals need to keep this snowball rolling. Keep up the good work in 2014 Craig! I’ll be reading and re-blogging.

  6. Thanks for the posts Craig…Large agri-business finding common ground with their critics and spinning a better public image would be wonderful if it leads to positive outcomes including improved practices on the ground wherever they are needed. Otherwise its window-dressing… Here in the Northeast and I’m sure other places as well, the forest products industry is watching closely as the local food movement and appeal for sustainable agriculture has gained tremendous ground in the public eye. Recently, I sat in on a public session in Vermont titled, “Building a Positive Understanding of the Forest Products Industry”. I’d bet money that variations of this conversation have been going on for over 20 years across the country. But it seems that people’s love for farm and forest landscapes don’t always translate when they see, for example an active timber harvest or a commercial slaughter house. But they use the wood and buy the food anyway. So its not so much about the what, its the how…

    In my opinion, each of us in our community roles, just need to be as transparent as we can be. Praise good work, explain why it is commendable and admit when we have erred. This all helps us stay ahead of negative publicity.

    The industry needs more men and women with leadership capacity that are active on some level in public life and civic pursuits. No expensive major marketing firm spinning a positive message is going to move public opinion in our favor as much as the real people doing the work and loving the land telling their story in an authentic way that potential opponents can relate to and understand from a human dimension. Finding out what specifically people dis-trust or dis-like about logging and forestry can lead us to consider what types of compromise we can take to be more sensitive to other peoples beliefs. This conversation can also lead us to an opportunity to trumpet all the positive things that we are doing to conserve open space and protect healthy forests across our country.

    I don’t think we’re defined by our critics as much as we are defined by the lack of understanding of how our work is relevant in so many things our critics value. Clean air, clean water, carbon storage, beautiful scenery and the backdrop for outdoor recreation, nice homes with wood furnishings, and on, and on…We just need to tell them our stories….Here’s to a healthy 2014 for our industry and to those who care to learn more about us!

  7. Will Wagner, PhD, RPF says:

    For a number of reasons, I feel that 2014 will be another year the forest industry’s critics defining the critical path of retrenchment in British Columbia. The public owns about 90% of the forested estate while it lives in urban areas on the lower mainland and southern
    Vancouver Island. There seems to be a serious disconnect between the land owners and the timber users with concern being voiced for almost all forest industry activity with the result often being a reduction in harvest and a shrinking in the amount of land that is available for timber management.

    Your contribution emphasizes the idea of TRUST and building a conversation in place of the ‘woods war’. A few years ago (2009) I was working on a study of the broader notion of public trust. It presented empirical evidence of recent surveys to support the claim that public trust in BC forestry is waning. It also showed evidence that the public’s perceived effectiveness of the Ministry of Forests and Range to fulfill its mandate – to manage the province’s forests in a way that reflects the “public interest” – was also declining. The paper did not really suggest anyway to improve the relationship between owners and managers but your contribution did!

    Maybe we here in British Columbia can use 2014 to build a dialogue with the forest owners using the American agriculture model. Thanks.

    Will Wagner

  8. Mike Berzinis says:

    Great article, Craig. There needs to be more impassioned representation on the good of our industry. There is some positive coverage related to our industry. For example: A TED talk on wood skyscrapers; an amazing packing solution on Wired Magazine’s webpage called ExpandOS. These two things are progress, but what are we doing with them? Renewables and sustainability aren’t buzzwords for us, they’re operating principles.

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