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The function of professional forestry associations


T. FRANÇOIS was formerly Chief, Forest Policy Branch, Forestry and Forest Products Division, FAO. This paper was commissioned for the Sixth World Forestry Congress.

THERE IS NO DOUBT that trends in the development of economic and social conditions in the modern world lead to the formation of groups. Both the individual and the small concern with no outside backing feel incapable of solving problems. Private demands are of no avail in face of the complex structure which controls daily life, and the financial means at the disposal of a single individual are inadequate for the achievement of broadly-based schemes.

On the other hand, when charged with the duty of carrying out some program or agreed policy, government departments are finding it increasingly difficult to gain the essential co-operation of the individual and generally approach a specialist association which can assist their efforts and even become the means of attaining their objectives.

It is therefore not to be wondered at that many and varied associations concerned with problems connected with forests and forest industries have been and are increasingly being organized in countries where these problems are of some social and economic importance. These associations are coming to play an ever increasing part in the direction and development of national forest policy.

A group only takes definite shape or becomes an association when all its members agree to adhere to its constitution. But what generally speaking is a forestry association and, in particular, what is a professional forestry association?

In its broadest meaning, a forestry association is a group of people, all of whom are for some reason interested in forestry or forest industries. Yet many such associations would not be termed "professional": the words "forest" or "forest products" may not even appear in their title. Nevertheless, their activities - directly or indirectly, permanently or temporarily - may be concerned with the forest and its products. In a narrower sense, a forestry association is a group of people who derive all or part of their livelihood from the forest or its products.

On the other hand, the term "professional forestry association" is restricted to a group of specialists with the same interests in forestry or forest industries, who gain most of their livelihood from their forestry activities and who perform duties directly concerned with their own profession.

Principal types of forestry associations and their function

The broad definition just given does not give an exact idea of the function of these associations in the development of forest policy. Although the classification proposed here is not entirely satisfactory owing to diversity of aims, it is possible to make a distinction between nonprofit-making associations and those constituted to protect the professional interests of their members.


Those associations which aim at promoting research and spreading knowledge in forestry and forest products are by their very nature composed exclusively of professionals, either as individuals or as members of a research institute. Their purpose is the exchange of new information obtained from research and they are completely disinterested financially. Most of the associations in this class aim at the protection of the forest as part of the national landscape, as a source of wealth, as a guardian of the soil and of water supplies, and for its amenity value for tourists. These associations are frequently entitled Friends of Nature, Friends of Trees, or Friends of the Forest, and may also be tourist associations. They may aim at safeguarding one particular region or a single forest which is especially important for the protection of a catchment area to avoid the contamination of the water, or for the recreation of the inhabitants of a large town. Sport can be put in this category, though it cannot be said to be entirely disinterested: in certain circumstances sport has a considerable, though indirect, influence on the forest and its products.

Some of these associations wield considerable power, either because of the large number of their members, or because of the means at their disposal - for example, teachers, who are members, can exert an influence on schoolchildren. Most associations have publications which may reach a wide public. Some have access to mass media such as radio or television.

Such forestry associations can play an important part in deciding forest policy. If sufficiently powerful, they can become pressure groups on governments and legislatures; they can make their influence felt particularly in the sphere of land use. It is not hard to find examples where their action has succeeded in conserving a woodland site, or in restricting abuse in the exploitation of the forests of a region or even of a whole country. It may happen, however, that these associations hold opinions which are too reactionary and conservative and which are thus at variance with the aims of a healthy forest policy. Hunting and shooting associations, for instance, may pursue aims which are not in the interests of a national forest policy.

Despite these possible conflicting interests, national associations in this category can be and are a force in the land in formulating forest policy. Their members can be convinced very easily of the aims of this policy and the means by which it will be implemented. In turn they will be the mouthpieces through which this can easily be communicated so that public opinion can be taught to accept these aims.

Generally speaking, therefore, it can be said that government departments would be well advised to foster these associations and to create more of them as their best means of propaganda. Not only associations with forestry interests should be encouraged but also every group that might occasionally be able to help toward achieving the desired aim. Educational bodies, political groups, and clubs of all kinds may be persuaded on certain occasions to interest themselves in forestry problems. This may have a decisive influence on government action or on public opinion.


As this type of association is usually composed of forest owners, it does not exist in countries where all forests belong to the State. A small private landowner part of whose estate is forest would only obtain some of his revenue from this source. It would however be difficult to refuse him the title of "professional." The forestry co-operative society is characteristic of this type of association. It is so well developed in many European countries and in Japan that the Sixth World Forestry Congress considered it necessary to devote a special paper to its work. These co-operative societies were established to make it easier for members to sell their forest products. Today their objectives are generally much wider and emphasize the wise administration of the forest through modern techniques in silviculture and exploitation, bearing in mind ever-changing economic conditions. In addition to these groups of owners of natural forests, groups for planting are also appearing. They aim to make it easier, both technically and financially, for their members to carry out afforestation and reforestation. These co-operative societies and similar groups are willing in certain cases to undertake important works such as roads and drainage schemes in order to increase the value of their members' forests. They are also prepared to invest large sums for up-to-date mechanical equipment or for the installation of sawmills to put at the disposal of their members.

It is true that a forestry co-operative society is only concerned with forest proprietors in a strictly limited area, sometimes a single parish or a small group of villages. But there is nothing to prevent these co-operatives from making regional groups and then combining on a national scale, as they have done particularly in the northern countries of Europe. It is therefore easy to appreciate that here they can exercise a considerable influence on the formulation and development of forest policy. On the other hand, they also provide a means - especially in countries where the small private forest is well developed - of assuring that forest policy, once decided upon, is carried out satisfactorily. Governments may experience difficulty in exercising control over each one of many interested owners or even over each local co-operative society. But with national associations run by highly competent men there is no such difficulty.

Beside associations of forest owners there are also, at least in capitalist countries, associations of industrialists and of timber merchants - these categories often overlapping. The aims of these groups can be very varied. In some countries they are principally concerned with controlling the marketing of timber. At annual conferences with representatives of the forest owners they fix the approximate price of different types of standing or felled timber for the next season. Industrialists are often grouped according to the primary or secondary categories of their products: sawmills, pulp or paper mills, box makers, furniture manufacturers, etc. The object of these groups is to fix the price of their products, so that forest industries can function and develop normally. They can, moreover, aim at imposing commercial standards for the benefit both of the industry and of the consumer. When large orders come in, for example from the State or from public bodies, they can apportion out the work and the remuneration among the commercial members of the group. Special mention must be made of associations of importers and exporters of timber. They play a useful part in standardizing imported and exported products, transport contracts and the price of goods passing between their members. These commercial and industrial associations are often formed within the framework of larger and more powerful organizations, for example chambers of commerce: in some countries, associations of forest owners are affiliated to chambers of agriculture.

Moreover, associations of business men and industrialists in wood-using industries, together with associations of forest owners at national level, become pressure groups on government departments and legislatures. Their common objective is to ensure that their members gain the highest profit possible from their endeavors. It would be a mistake, however, to consider their function as wholly self-seeking. The development of any industry can benefit not only interested parties, but also the whole national economy. One can easily imagine the social and economic results of the decline or disappearance of a large part or even the whole of an industry which has been playing such an important part in the life of a region or of a country.

Much of the enterprise shown by these groups, though not wholly disinterested, may have a direct bearing on the national economy. The main part of their activities consists in making inquiries concerning the supply and demand of the forest products with which they are concerned. The results of these inquiries can serve as a basis for the development of forest policy. When considering the recruitment of workmen and employees, they can work out an educational program which may be of benefit to a large number of people. They can also promote research and organize research stations for forest owners or general laboratories for forest industries. These enterprises can become of such national importance that many governments give them generous help, both technical and financial.

Governments are interested in an even more general way in the existence of these associations. The time has passed when the implementation of forest policy depended only on somewhat restrictive legislation. Needless to say, there still have to be forest laws but forest policy increasingly requires a combination of productive program and investment. These can only be made possible through the willing collaboration of all interested parties: forest owners (in the countries where the private owner is still important), industrialists, timber traders and those interested in other forest products. Governments use various means to retain some influence over these associations. In the first place, their constitution is generally limited by law and by regulations which give the State some control over their activities, while guaranteeing to their members a fair representation in their organization. Moreover, such associations can better direct the technical aid and advice given by governments for the satisfactory working out of programs and thus ensure that such aid and advice reach everyone concerned. But, above all, it is in the economic and financial spheres that state assistance can be exercised through these associations. Low interest loans, subsidies and exemption from taxes can easily depend on those receiving help being members of an association of this kind. In turn, the association can be entrusted with the distribution of aid among its members. Their role in fact, may become so important that governments make their formation obligatory or, at any rate, encourage them in every possible way.

It is evident that the pressure which such associations exercise on government organizations and vice versa are more or less balanced. If governments take the necessary steps, this relationship can eventually be used to carry out forest policy in the best economic interests of the country. After all in capitalist countries these associations are nothing less than the economic machinery through which the impetus provided by the government is conveyed to the individuals implementing forest policy.


This third type of association is composed almost entirely of salaried workers and aims at improving the conditions under which they live and practice their profession. They are "professional" associations, but this adjective must be given a very wide meaning. The most important numerically of these associations are the trade unions of forest workers and those in wood-using industries. Powerful in numbers because they usually belong to much larger associations, they can exert a great influence in settling their demands. In each country there is generally only one or just a few such associations, which unite all or the majority of workers in the industrial and commercial enterprises of the country.

Power and value of trade unions

It is not difficult to appreciate how considerable is the pressure these trade unions can bring to bear. At any rate in capitalist countries it is not exercised directly against government departments and legislatures, but against companies employing workers belonging to the trade unions or against associations which represent the companies. Unions of workers, however, have means at their disposal - such as the right to strike - with which to bring pressure to bear on governments. In turn, if they think it is fair and necessary, governments can exercise an equal pressure, as indicated above, on the whole group of interested industrial concerns.

The aims of these trade unions are primarily to increase wages and maintain or improve the purchasing power of wages in the changing conditions brought about by economic development. However, they are also concerned with every aspect of the standard of living of their members: professional status, social insurance, paid holidays, security of employment, help when laid off, prevention of accidents at work, lodging conditions (especially important in the case of forest workers), wage scales, privileges for long-established workers, and so on. Many of these aspects depend on general legislation and labor or can be controlled by government regulations. A minimum salary can be fixed by law. In all these cases unions of forest workers or in forest industries can and should bring direct pressure to bear on public bodies. Usually, as has been stated, their influence is only added to that of the wage earners of other industries. However, the living conditions of these workers and particularly of forest workers as such are so specific that many claims call for special action.

Nevertheless, in order to justify their claims, the trade unions in question must devote some of their activities social and economic research. These results can be studied carefully by governments when deciding on their forest policy. In the United States, the trade union which includes forest workers maintains a study bureau which concerns itself with every detail of forest policy. It can then make suggestions for changes in this policy so as to ensure a higher standard of living for workers and better security in their employment.

The function of these unions is not merely one of making claims. The success of any forest policy depends on the workers' conditions. Forest industries cannot subsist or develop without a sufficiently large well-trained labor force, enjoying an adequate standard of living. It is known, for example, that many countries experience difficulty in recruiting a sufficient number of woodcutters. On the other hand, the very existence of trade unions makes it possible for government departments to exert some influence on the labor force. They can arbitrate in clashes, perhaps reduce demands, explain the reasons which dictate their policy and, in the end, hope to win acceptance of the measures proposed.

Important role of professional forestry associations

In many countries the elite of the employees - graduates in forestry and forest industries - have also seen the value of grouping themselves in professional organizations. These are the professional forestry associations in the narrowest sense of the term mentioned at the beginning of this paper. In some cases these groups are incorporated into special categories of the same large trade unions of manual workers: in most cases, however, they are quite independent associations which have taken many years to build up and which exercise both authority and responsibility.

These associations are concerned principally with the professional interests of their members. In highly developed countries problems concerning salaries are of minor importance. The comparative scarcity of highly trained men compels the employer, whether the State or a private concern, to assure them a suitable remuneration, which has been openly discussed between employer and employee. If this stage of affairs is to continue, a high standard of qualification must be maintained among these men. This kind of professional association is therefore chiefly concerned with guarding and improving the standard of entry into the profession. The duty of the association is to determine the standard by defining and maintaining a code of conduct and then to raise the professional standard of its members throughout the service by all possible means.

Unless the members of these associations make a profound study of the problems of forest policy, they cannot fulfill their proper functions, the most important of which are the education and training of graduates for forestry and forest industries. Inadequate programs of education, rewarded by diplomas of doubtful value, would not only result in debasing the profession but would compromise the execution of the whole forest policy.

Thus at first sight it seems that the more highly developed and powerful of these associations have to spend their time on matters far removed from the professional interests of their members. Besides dealing with inquiries directly concerning the profession, they seek to promote certain types of research and encourage their research workers; they also undertake work of general interest, such as the development of systems of classification for forestry documentation and the definition of technical terms used by the profession. They publish works when it seems that distribution among their membership will improve technical ability.

Professional forestry associations are always small numerically, but their activities make it possible for them to play a leading part in implementing national forest policies. This is particularly so when among its members are people who hold responsible posts in the world of forestry or forest industries. Owing to their high professional qualifications, these people can exercise unquestionable authority over those government departments formulating forest policy. As is the case with other groups, these associations have a certain influence on governments and legislatures but at this level the word "pressure" is out of place. It is truer to say that they give to these departments additional and helpful information, counsel and advice. The higher the reputation of the association, the more cogent is its advice; its :reputation depending on the work undertaken and the professional status of the persons who execute it.

Graduates in forestry and the wood-using industries who have studied at the same school can form themselves into a society and become affiliated to professional associations of this nature. These societies are completely uncommercial; their principal aims are to maintain the bonds of friendship and solidarity forged during the years their members studied together, and to pass on to succeeding generations that respect for the profession which was inculcated into them at school. Nevertheless, these societies often undertake activities which are of general interest to the profession or calculated to promote progress in forest policy.

Comparing these societies with the profit-making associations which form the economic machinery for the formulation and implementation of forest policy, it might be said in conclusion that the nonprofit-making and professional categories form the social machinery because they contribute to the improvement of the human instruments at the disposal of governments, who use them to contribute toward the success of their forest programs.

General characteristics of forestry associations


All forestry associations are obviously useful to their members and are no less useful to the State, or at any rate to the government departments responsible for the formulation and execution of forest policies, with the exception of purely local associations which have no general aim.

A marked characteristic of forestry associations is that, owing to the miscellaneous activities which they can undertake, it is at times difficult to place them in one of the three categories described above. This is especially true of professional forestry associations in the narrowest sense of the word: concrete examples will be given later in this paper. Again, associations formed for profit making which undertake inquiries, encourage research, and organize education and apprenticeship are obviously being of use to their members; but it is possible that their general interest goes further than this. On the other hand, the associations which have been called nonprofit-making are not always as much so as they might appear. The case of sports societies has already been quoted but it is clear that such an association whose aim is the conservation of a forest might well have among its members a riparian forest owner or some people directly interested in conserving the forest.


It is evident that each association functions within the general organization of each country; there is also a tendency for many to seek a more or less international function.

This tendency is most marked among the nonprofit-making associations. Often, indeed, their aims know no frontiers. The most typical case is that of forestry research. The International Union of Forestry Research Organizations is an association already well established which is continually extending its influence, so that its value is widely recognized in all forestry circles. The Commonwealth Forestry Association, which covers a large number of countries, goes beyond mere research, creating a bond between its members and facilitating the spread of information and knowledge which helps them in their profession: it could equally well be placed in the group which contains associations of professional foresters. A large number of groups concerned with the conservation and rational utilization of natural resources are incorporated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which has spread considerably of late years. All these international associations periodically organize congresses. Large numbers of people attend them, not only professional foresters but sometimes also well-known scientists interested in conservation problems in one way or another. They have, of course, permanent secretariats.

Profit-making associations show less tendency toward internationalization because the aims of these groups differ so much between one country and another. In . addition, the means of attaining these aims are dependent on each country's institutions, which are no less diverse than the aims themselves. Even among certain categories of forest owners, however, there is at the present time an attempt toward internationalization, for instance among the communes in wooded mountainous areas. There is also a movement toward internationalization among industrial and commercial groups and this could easily develop among emergent nations today. At the moment it is limited to national groups interested in finished or semifinished commodities as, for example, packing cases. The tendency is naturally more marked in the case of products which are widely exported or imported.

Although in this class of association the tendency toward internationalization is still limited, there is no doubt that the majority of those concerned are in favor of it. One has only to testify to the success of the meetings organized by FAO at regional or world level, to study problems relevant to the various categories of forest products. The number of meetings has increased rapidly in the last few years, particularly in the pulp and paper industry and in those of plywood, fibreboard and particle board. They have aroused great interest, and this is not to be wondered at when one considers the ever-growing importance of these products in the world market.

With regard to associations formed to protect the professional interests of their members, workers in the forest and in wood-using industries are beginning to show a more international outlook. If this link is not direct, it is in evidence when the trade unions to which these groups are affiliated intervene on their behalf. Trade unions are, of course, widely represented in the International Labour Organisation. This is not internationalization in the usual sense of the term, but ILO makes possible major confrontations on a world scale among the various or opposed interests of groups connected with labor problems.

There is no internationalization for forestry associations when the word is used in its narrowest sense. Certainly there are such important international associations as the Commonwealth Forestry Association or the Scandinavian Forestry Association, which has also been in existence for many years. There is however doubt as to whether these associations are profit- or nonprofit-making. It seems at the moment more correct to put them in the latter class. All these associations have truly international characteristics, but they are not comparable with the powerful national Society of American Foresters. This society, engaging in many pursuits of a general nature, has as its chief aim the improvement of standards in the profession, the maintenance on the highest level of its prestige and the raising of conditions for its members. This type of association is not at the moment concerned with internationalization.

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