Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Public goodwill is essential for forestry progress


E. VON HOFSTEN has been seconded for special duties for 2 years with the Forestry and Forest Products Division of FAO by the Swedish Norrland Forestry Society.


EFFORTS to improve a given industry are greatly facilitated if they meet with sympathetic appreciation from various groups of people in the community - this is almost an axiom. If good public relations exist, measures will be positively received, suggestions will be taken up for serious consideration, mistakes will be excused, legislation and action will be favorable and money available. Good public relations have the same effect on efforts to improve as oil has on an engine or wind on a sailing-boat.

In many respects, forestry is characterized by sacrifices made in the present to obtain benefits in the future few, if any, human activities require such long-term investments. This simple fact has had a vital influence on the tragic history of forestry in many countries and it might be said, therefore, that good public relations are particularly important. This is especially true in countries where large-scale reforestation programs are to be decided upon and put into execution.

The Forestry and Forest Products Division of FAO has not as yet paid much attention to this aspect of forestry. In the field of extension, the education and training of forestry personnel, particularly in the professional categories, has certainly been part of its work for a long time. There seem to be increasing indications, however, that this will not prove sufficient and that more attention will have to be paid in the future to the training of forest workers and forest owners, and also to the spreading of information to persons outside forestry.

During this last decade the forestry sphere in Sweden, and in many other countries, has done much to develop its activities in this field.

It is obvious, however, that the possibilities of direct dissemination from one region of the world to another, of experience gained in this field of activity, which is concerned above all with human relations, are strictly limited. History, traditions and general development, social, religious and economic circumstances may all vary in ways that suggest quite different solutions to the common problem: How to acquire strong general support for forestry.

The purpose of this article, which deals with experience gained in Sweden, is by no means, therefore, to propose this program of action for other countries, but merely to stress the urgency of the matter and provide the background for further discussion of action programs suitable for other countries.

The article is divided into three parts:

1. a description of some topical and important problems in Swedish forestry today, the solutions to which are greatly influenced by current public relations - to emphasize the urgency of the matter;

2. a description of the public relations activities carried out in various bodies and associations in Sweden - to give an idea of methods and organization;

3. a short summary of the experience gained.

Current problems requiring good public relations


Two decades ago, forest work was held in bad repute as being one of the hardest and most badly paid occupations in the country. It required no training whatsoever, but was looked upon merely as something taken over, and learned, from one's father, for lack of anything better. Socially it ranked at the very bottom of the scale.

As industrialization and urbanization accelerated, it became obvious that a change in this state of affairs was imperative, both to ensure continued recruitment and for social reasons. The process of improving conditions in the field of forest work is, however, a very complex one. Some essential steps are:

(a) large-scale, nation-wide training facilities for forest workers;
(b) higher wages;
(c) mechanization, aiming at easier work;
(d) more convenient houses and camps;
(e) improvement of the forest road network;
(f) prevention of accidents;
(g) permanent instead of seasonal employment.

A prerequisite for a successful program of work along these lines is a positive attitude on the part of the central and local government bodies, who will have to finance the necessary schools, roads, and staff. Substantial efforts will have to be made by employers. More important in this context, however, is to overcome the traditional aversion toward forest work. This task has proved to be a typical illustration of the importance of intensive and persistent propaganda on a very broad front. It must be pointed out, however, that propaganda alone, unsupported by concrete improvements in conditions, would have had little effect.


As mentioned above, urbanization is a prominent, feature of Sweden today. Migration is particularly heavy from districts where agriculture is weak - that is, from the main forestry districts. Thus the problem of maintaining an adequate infrastructure in spite of the declining population is particularly topical in these districts, and forestry, which itself contributes to the process through the rationalization and mechanization of operations, is particularly affected by and dependent on government decisions regarding the location of those communal facilities which are so important in reducing the speed of urbanization.

Unless there is a good general knowledge of, and firm confidence in, future forestry possibilities in the country as a whole and in certain districts, decisions concerning these matters tend to be unfavorable to forestry.


One answer to the urgent problem of reducing costs in forestry is mechanization. This is now, as in so many other countries, being rapidly adopted in Sweden. One general result of the mechanization of logging operations is a trend toward larger operations, which can justify high capital investment. The present landownership pattern in many districts, however, makes it impossible for large-scale operations to be undertaken in an astonishingly large percentage of the forests. Many farm holdings are not only small but, even worse, they are often split up into different plots under complicated ownership conditions. This problem is also common to many company forests, although these may consist of hundreds of thousands of hectares altogether. Thus mechanization is severely hindered, and in some areas actually made impossible.

To change a landownership pattern is a complicated task which requires both government action and a positive attitude on the part of those who will be affected by the changes. Confidence in the future possibilities of forestry is again a prerequisite for action in this field, which admittedly has a character of long-term investment. A second prerequisite is awareness on the part of a very large number of people of the benefits within reach; while a third is thorough knowledge of the procedures for changing land tenure systems, which in turn implies good facilities for research.


For more than 30 years Sweden has had a social democratic government. Nevertheless, Sweden today is not a socialized country, the Government having chosen instead to collaborate with, and to a certain extent control, private enterprise. This does not mean, however, that nationalization is for ever excluded - in general discussions it is in fact often put forward as a remedy for a real or supposedly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The forests have long been a focus of attention in such discussions, because forestry is one of the main foundations of the Swedish economy and because the ownership pattern - roughly one half of the forests is privately owned, one quarter belongs to companies and one quarter is publicly owned - offers excellent opportunities for more or less speculative comparisons of efficiency, productive capacity, social care, and so on. Many of the problems mentioned above - such as maintenance of a public infrastructure, mechanization, reorganization of ownership patterns, education and training, and social welfare - must be tackled in different ways depending on who is the owner of the forest, and, more important, the solutions may differ in such a way that they invite diverse evaluations.

Antagonism between the three categories of forest owners sometimes develops into a real "battle," fought out in full view of the public. The prize at stake is recognition as the most efficient manager of the country's most important asset. The winner can be sure of support from the leading circles in the community.

The list of forestry problems requiring a positive attitude for their solution could easily be extended, and the number of groups fighting for a place in the sun could be increased, but what has already been said may be sufficient to make it clear that forestry as a whole, and certain pressure groups within forestry, have a keen interest in establishing a good reputation among the public as a whole - that is, they need good public relations. A description of the methods that have been used to achieve this goal follows.

Public relations activities in Swedish forestry today

The methods used in successful public relations activities necessarily depend on the environment in which they are to be used. Unfortunately, forestry is not the sole actor on the stage - on the contrary, the stage is crowded by innumerable players, ranging from excellent performers to mere jugglers. The noise is deafening. No performer can hope to be noticed, except by chance, unless he watches his fellow-competitors and the tricks they use.

Public relations activities are more likely to succeed when planned and executed by professional and experienced men. If you are looking for a great singer, your chances are inevitably greater if you turn to singers rather than to foresters. It usually takes some time for foresters to realize this simple fact - many of them, unfortunately, never do.

Constructive discussions at top level have, always been an important feature of the excursions arranged by the Norrland Forestry Society of Sweden. Here members are discussing reforestation methods on a cleared forest site.

Now let us see how forestry activities in this field are organized in Sweden today, and what methods are used. As to the organization, this is designed to serve the various competing groups rather than forestry itself. This state of affairs has both its advantages and its disadvantages, which will be touched upon later. The activities within the Forest Service are described in most detail because most countries have a corresponding body.


The Swedish Forest Service is almost entirely dedicated to the management of the state-owned forests and has nothing to do with private forestry. Four million hectares and an annual cut of 7 million cubic meters indicate the order of magnitude - the state is by far the largest forest owner in the country.

The head of the Public Relations Department, directly subordinate to and in close collaboration with the Director-General, is an experienced journalist, not a forester. His staff consists at present of two additional journalists, one photographer, and secretaries. Their fields of activities are highly diversified, but the basic one is internal information.

This information is directed to all the categories of personnel employed, forest workers and forest guards as well as rangers, officers, and office clerks, and concentrates on points which have a direct bearing on the daily work: instructions, employment, recruitment, pension policies, prevention of accidents and other social welfare aspects, budgets and programs, wages and salaries, training facilities, news about equipment and methods, meetings and conferences, appointments, investigations inside and outside the Forest

Service, and press debates of current interest. Written information is circulated in:

(a) a newspaper-type periodical, issued monthly and distributed free of charge to all personnel;

(b) a stenciled press review, issued twice weekly, distributed to all officers, and closely following press news and debates of interest to forestry;

(c) pamphlets for more complicated information on specific matters.

A good information service must not, however, be directed "downward" only. Information "upward," about the reactions and desires of the employees, is also an important element. A series of bodies has been established, one for the entire Forest Service and one for each of the eleven districts to which employees of all categories send their representatives. These bodies are essential for the spread of information in both directions.

The internal information work can be considered basic in that it forms the foundation upon which rests the external information about the Forest Service. The Public Relations Department in Stockholm may be well staffed and have good contacts with the leading newspapers and with the central television and radio programers, but it is quite impossible for it to maintain contacts with, for example, local press and radio. Such contacts are important for establishing good public relations at the local level. Perhaps one of the most important lessons to be learned from large-scale and successful public relations activity is that the task is not one that can easily be handed over to a single person but, on the contrary, it must be able to draw on as many staff members as possible. The role of a public relations head in this connection is that of a co-ordinator and, above all, an inspirer foresters at all levels have to be told about the necessity of good public relations and the methods to be used to achieve this goal.

This leads us to another aspect of public relations work, which the Swedish Forest Service and many other bodies have learned from experience. When the importance of good public relations has been realized and efforts have accordingly been made to ensure widespread publicity, it must also be realized that it is quite difficult to reveal only the positive features and hide the negative ones. Journalists are very quick at discovering such tricks as hidden facts - and once these are uncovered by the press all future publicity is suspect. The only way of avoiding this most unfortunate situation is actually to arrange things so that there is nothing to hide. Many serious public relations programs have, in fact, helped to disclose weak points and to cause approaches, and even philosophies, to be reconsidered.

The little "battle" between the various categories of forest owner has been mentioned earlier. If we look upon this expression in a very wide sense, most of the public relations activities carried out within the Forest Service could be considered as part of the battle, certainly all the multifarious measures for promoting the recreational use of the forests. (It is beyond the scope of this article, however, to describe these in detail.) The most sophisticated part of the battle, however, is fought at the top level of the Forest Service, and experience shows that a Public Relations Department, ready and able to assist the Director-General or Deputy Director-General at any moment by formulating and distributing information material, is a real prerequisite for success.

In Sweden it is impossible to buy half-an-hour, or even half-a-minute, of the radio or television programs. The program-makers are supreme in one monopoly enterprise. Space in a television program can therefore be looked upon as the ultimate proof of a very skillful publicity campaign. The Forest Service Public Relations Department has been successful in this respect and the preparation of programs is today a very important part of its work.

Another department within the Forest Service is responsible for courses for employees of all categories.

In conclusion, these departments, which have been mainly built up during the last six or seven years, have proved to be indispensable parts of the Forest Service. The Public Relations Department has, at the same time, played an essential part in acquiring for forestry as a whole the goodwill of the public.


Having described public relations activities within the Forest Service, the corresponding activities in the other forest owner categories can be described quite briefly. This is particularly so as regards the forest companies, which have much the same general task as the Forest Service (the management of large forests). It might be noted, however, that most of the bigger companies have adopted approaches similar to that of the Forest Service, though naturally they dispose of smaller resources. Some ten of them have their own newspapers or periodicals, addressed to all employees, and are gradually taking a more positive attitude toward trends and desires in the field of recreation.

One of the most successful moves is worth mentioning. For the past few years, the most popular program on Swedish television has been one dealing with wildlife management and connected matters. One of the forest companies acts as host for this program, having allotted one of its farms for the purpose and offered its assistance. Only one condition seems to have been made: that the name of the farm be connected with that of the company. The success obtained is indisputable.


There ate some 20 forest owners' associations in Sweden, united in a federation. They consist of about 130,000 forest owners, owning some 7 million hectares, and have a considerable industrial capacity of their own (such as pulp mills with an overall capacity of more than 500,000 tons). Their position as marketers of timber is strong.

The mechanization of forest work is perhaps the main problem confronting small forest owners and their associations today. The solution would seem to lie, firstly, in co-operation. The fostering of this co-operation is perhaps the main task for public relations activities within the associations, which, therefore, have to a large extent the character of large-scale extension and training. A monthly periodical, courses with thousands, and excursions and meetings with tens of thousands, of participants form part of this work. It is not possible to go into details here - nor is it necessary to do so when reporting on the procedures used in the battle against the competing forest owners categories. Both the procedures used and the lessons learned are much the same as those in the Forest Service.


The County Forestry Boards and the National Board of Private Forestry, which form part of the same authority, are the state bodies responsible for the promotion of private forestry. Most of their activities have the character of advice and assistance in the field to small forest owners. In this they co-operate with the forest owners' associations.

It is of special interest to note the role of these bodies in vocational training for forest owners and forest workers. Some 30 well-equipped and well-staffed schools are now in operation all over the country; they cater for more than 1,000 students on one-year courses, and also provide many additional specialized shock courses. In many cases the schools act as excellent propaganda centers for forestry as a whole, and their diverse activities have certainly made a substantial contribution to the general esteem now felt for forestry and, in particular, for the profession of the forest worker.


Swedes are famous for their inclination to organize themselves. The sphere of forestry forms no exception in this respect, but there is no space here to go into details about the public relations activities of all these groups.


A characteristic of all the activities so far mentioned is that they are connected with a particular organization, union or body. The only body working primarily for forestry as a whole is the Swedish Forestry Association. The fact that this Association is composed of individuals and is not a governing body of the Forest Service, the companies, and the forest owners' associations, necessarily limits its activities mainly to propaganda and other extension work. The lack of a governing body, which could act as the spokesman for forestry in the community, has been a severe handicap in many instances, and the founding of such a body has been eagerly discussed on various occasions. So far, however, the controversies and differences in character between the various groups have formed an insurmountable obstacle.

In the absence of such an organization, the Swedish Forestry Association acts as the spokesman of forestry as far as possible. Its thrice-yearly excursions and meetings are important events. One of them, is Forestry Week in Stockholm, with a series of lectures and debates on current problems. Its annual conferences for those newspaper, television and radio journalists responsible for forestry reporting, articles and programs, have indeed been important in widening and improving the publicity given to forestry. Its periodical is the main mouthpiece of forestry. Its conferences for Members of Parliament and high officials of the Government, when highly qualified representatives of the different forestry groups elucidate current problems of importance, have been valuable. Its nationwide competitions among schoolchildren have extended the knowledge of forestry. Its campaign against leaving litter in the countryside has been a step in the right direction (though, unfortunately, quite insufficient).

Summary: Lessons learned in Sweden

The fact that public relations activities have been built up mainly to support the aims of different groups within forestry rather than of forestry itself, has been a severe drawback in the sense that forestry has lacked an official spokesman in the community. On the other hand, the antagonism between the various categories of forest owner has undoubtedly stimulated overall activity. People may be bored by all the details of the everlasting battle - but they are certainly left with the impression that forests must indeed be something worth fighting about.

In short, the advantages of decentralization probably outweigh the disadvantages.

Public relations activities cannot be handed over to a single person. On the contrary, they require joint work by the entire staff, from the very top almost to the bottom.

Internal information is the father of external information.

Professional and experienced men, aware of methods and channels and fully realizing the dynamics of this field of activity, are supposed to do a better job in a Public Relations Department than foresters. The contribution of the latter is, nevertheless, essential.

Methods, tools and channels must depend primarily on the tricks and moves of fellow-competitors. Ideas can be gathered in other countries but must be adjusted, often quite substantially, to fit in with prevailing national habits and traditions. Fresh ideas can be most valuable. The handing on of experience from country to country is easy as regards urgency and many details, but difficult as regards priorities and general programs of work.

A profound public relations program, with its multifarious contacts with the world around, can, at its best and when honestly discussed at the top level, be an effective test of programs or philosophies, and even lead to a revision of these.

Many persons, when confronted with the task of influencing public opinion, underestimate the difficulties and the cost. Only continued and far-reaching, well-planned and skilful efforts, with the application of modern techniques, seem to give results. Adequate funds are essential - and the philosopher's stone does not exist!

Forestry in Sweden has proved to have a natural and most valuable prerequisite for building up a substantial feeling of goodwill among the public. At a time when urbanization is a main feature of the community's development, forests represent the counterweight to crowding and noise, they stand for recreation - and even for a touch of romance. Many foresters have probably never thought about this - nevertheless, it has proved to be a string worth playing. Good players are required, however - otherwise the tune might be off key.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page