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Explaining forestry to forest users

This article is taken from the report of the Australian "For Wood Conference" held in April 1974.

The reasons why forests are used in one way or another need to be publicly explained in terms which the public can understand

The multiple use of the forest resource inevitably increases public interest and even involvement in the manner in which the forest is managed.

People use timber, traditionally the major product of the forest, in its various forms, but they obtain it usually well down the chain of supply, at a point remote from the forest itself. Provided the timber or other forest product is available in the form or dimensions required and at a reasonable price, they are not particularly concerned how it is obtained; this is a matter for the forester and the timberman.

But as soon as the forest is recognized as providing other benefits, such as water and recreation and beauty, then people become directly interested in what is happening in, and to, the forest itself. And it is at this point that forest managers should be actively participating in what might be termed a public relations programme, but which in fact should go far beyond public relations to encompass education in, and explanation and interpretation of forestry in all its aspects, and usually also to include continuing contact with the public to determine their preferences, desires and ideas.

The first and most important point to make is that public relations are useless in the absence of performance. The forest manager must not only say what he is doing, and why, but his statements must be borne out in the forest. Again, forest managers, and the people who work for them or under their supervision, are 'doers' and they are human. As such it is only to be expected that they will on occasion make mistakes. When this happens the forest manager should be prepared to admit that an error has occurred, and he should learn from his mistake and take the appropriate steps to ensure that it does not occur again. In brief he should be frank, and he should match his words to his deeds.


Matter of taste

Forest managers should realize that many people, visiting a commercial forest for the first time, will be shocked by the appearance of a current logging area. Some may be exhilarated by the roar of heavy logging equipment, by the crash of falling trees, by the smell of exhaust fumes and of freshly cut timber and of soil churned up by the tractors, by all the activity that is associated with logging. But many will find it ugly or distasteful. The forest manager should not be surprised at this, but should be prepared to explain, by all appropriate means, that this is only part of the process by which forests are managed and timber reaches the user. The situation is of course not unique to forestry: an abattoir is hardly as attractive as a herd of Herefords grazing in a lush, tree shaded pasture.

This matter of explaining, or of interpreting, can be carried out in various ways, both in the forest or out of it: it can be done by brochures and pamphlets, by displays, by talks and lectures, by articles in the press, by guided tours, by information boards. Although it deals with forest problems and with forest management, it is often a task for the professional communicator: the educator, journalist, graphic artist and photographer. It has to be done in a way that is understandable and interesting, and that again can be related to what can be seen in the forest itself.

A two-way affair

Multiple use brings the forest manager into direct contact with a large number of the public who seek to use the forest for a variety of purposes. Efforts should be made to ensure that communication with these people is a genuine two-way affair: that not only do the managers advise and instruct the visitors about the forest, but that the visitors have the opportunity to express their views and ideas, with some likelihood that sound ideas, reasonably presented, will be heeded and considered. Some approaches to this question include the establishment of advisory committees in certain forest areas that receive considerable public use; periodic consultation with special-interest groups or associations that make frequent use of the forest - recreational, sporting or natural history groups, for example; and, of course, the various visitor-sampling techniques that provide the basis for a constant stream of technical papers on forest recreation.

The point is that avenues that will help the public to identify itself with forest management should be explored and developed, as should any avenues that will assist the forest manager to understand and appreciate better the role of those who seek to enrich the quality of their lives through their use of the forest.

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