Reframing the message on working forests


Larry Selzer is the CEO of The Conservation Fund, a Washington, D.C-based group that doesn’t give environmental groups a bad name. He is also a two-term board member of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and he gave the keynote address at the recent SFI Annual Conference.

Selzer is a living example of how environmentalism and forestry are not mutually exclusive. The Conservation Group owns and manages 100,000 acres of working forests, keeping them from being converted into subdivisions and shopping malls. But Selzer is well aware that he has some misperceptions to overcome.

“I’ve spent my share of time explaining why a so-called conservation organization supports working forests, cutting trees instead of just leaving them standing as God and the activists intended,” he said during his keynote.

Selzer’s keynote address is worth exploring because of his unique perspective and because of his eloquence on how best to maintain working forests in the future. Kathy Abusow, the President of SFI, praised his address, and the full text of his speech can be found here.

(To see Selzer on video, go here to see him giving a different speech earlier this year.)

In his SFI speech, Selzer had strong words for timber companies and environmentalists, corporations and elected officials, but his most critical point was that the message on the importance of working forests must be reframed.

Forests should be considered infrastructure, just like highways or rail lines, he said, “a self-sustaining 400 million-acre economy in green that provides us with clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, carbon sinks to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a source of renewable energy – not to mention the more than 2 million jobs that depend on them.”

The American public widely supports investing in infrastructure, and if they understand that forests are just as necessary as highways, they will understand why forests must be protected, Selzer said.

Perhaps we should take a page out of the farmer’s playbook. Beginning in the 1950s, our nation’s two million farmers began to speak about food independence as a key component of national security, and I don’t need to remind any of you how much money is invested in agriculture through the Farm Bill each year.

There are only two million farmers in this country and yet their clout is enormous.

There are over 10 million private forestland owners, and yet we command only a fraction of the nation’s attention. We need to come together and speak with one voice about the need for strong markets, reducing regulatory risk, favorable tax policy and dedicated public funding.

Part of the effort to preserve forests should be to get them closer to people’s lives, Selzer said. Too many kids are being kept inside to play video games, too many vacant lots are staying paved over instead of being changed into parks.

For too long, we in the environmental movement have defined nature in terms of wildness, far away and pristine. And the result is that nature has become a foreign country that we get to visit only once in a while. That will never do.

For those of us who advocate for working forests and prepare for the future, Selzer’s remarks are a valuable road map.