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Branding Our Green Infrastructure

Photo of a beautiful sunny field with purple flowers

I’ve spoken at conferences. Sometimes in rooms with people who have different opinions on my subject than I do. But I can honestly say, I have never been in Evan Smith’s shoes, standing in front of a room full of foresters and lumber mill owners, a title slide behind him emblazoned with the name of his conservation organization—The Conservation Fund.

The occasion was the sixth, bi-annual Small Log Conference in Coeur d’Alene. This three-day event put on by the Forest Business Network attracts a mix of people and topics either directly in or connected to forestry. This year’s conference featured speakers on topics such as turning wood into jet fuel, using beetle kill pine in high-end wood products, launching national Check Off campaigns, tapping export markets, understanding the economics of biomass, treating asbestos contamination in the forests near Libby, Montana, and more. In other words, the mix was as diverse as a healthy timber stand. Now back to The Conservation Fund presentation.

Evan’s topic was brand centered, and truth be told a big reason I chose to attend the event. As a brand developer, conservationist and board member with Five Valleys Land Trust and High Country News, I was interested to learn how The Conservation Fund straddled its environmental and land management roles. The organization’s mission is to save “America’s favorite places.” As a large-scale landowner, it also cuts timber as a way to manage some of those places.

The seeming dichotomy was apparent in Evan’s opening slide. On the left was a postcard picture of a California mountain stream. On the right, a pile of logs. The reaction one has to a slide like that is to pick a side. Are you for clean water? Native fish? Singing birds? Or are you for timber jobs? Two-by-fours? And the smoky zing-a-zing-zing of chainsaws?

But, as Evan would go on to say, the forest is not black and white. Both pictures can and do coexist. In fact, in some cases they are interdependent. The challenge is to find balance, to help people see that we as a society need both pictures. Perhaps now, more than ever.

Did you know that 70% of America’s drinking water originates on forested land? That an acre of forest sequesters about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide annually? That a lack of outdoor recreation contributes to childhood obesity? That the timber industry provides more jobs in the US than the auto industry? That Americans use about three billion board feet of lumber every year to build homes, make paper and create valuable products?

In other words, the biggest issues facing our country — water, climate change, health, jobs and quality of life—all intersect with forests and forest management in some way. Yet few people seem to make the correlation. So how do we get across the importance of this issue to a population that has become more urban and less connected to the outdoors?

The Conservation Fund uses a term — Green Infrastructure — that I believe has merit. Yes, it’s a bit wonky on its own. But it’s accurate. Much like we have and maintain an infrastructure of roads, rails and utilities, we as a nation have an infrastructure of forestlands that provides significant (perhaps even more valuable) benefits. In a media environment saturated with stories of drought and fire, climate change, population growth, health care costs, bleak labor reports and global austerity measures, the idea of making Green Infrastructure a priority has the opportunity to resonate like never before.

Now is the time to present our forests not as stands of two-by-fours or post card photos to be admired from afar, but as a living, breathing, evolving infrastructure that makes each of us — no matter where we live — healthier and richer. It’s a message many at the conference seemed ready to embrace. I know I am.

For more on the Small Log Conference and on some innovative, interesting approaches to forest management and lumber use, check out these links.

Forest Business Network: The organization behind the conference
NARA: Turning woody biomass into a more environmentally friendly jet fuel
Sustainable Lumber Company: Adding remarkable value to trees no one else wants
reThinkWood: Solid info on the green superiority of wood as a building material
The Conservation Fund: Finding the balance between economic and environmental

6 thoughts on “Branding Our Green Infrastructure

  1. Sean,
    well expressed. as a railroader, we tend to lean on the side of job creation. Seemingly developed from a postition of having an adversarial, hands off, forest contingent that wants to leave the forest unmanaged altogether. As a long time Montanan, i almost take for granted our backyard wilderness areas. However, I have come to both understand and appreciate the place of conservation and healthy forest management and how capable many loggers and timber centric people are in terms of being directly engaged in this. As you said, our forests are an infrastructure, to be managed. Not abused; not unused(and enjoyed). Thanks again for your analysis.

  2. Great post and analysis, Sean!

    My favorite part:

    “Now is the time to present our forests not as stands of two-by-fours or post card photos to be admired from afar, but as a living, breathing, evolving infrastructure that makes each of us — no matter where we live — healthier and richer.”

    1. It’s a tall order, but shifting American’s views in that direction would be an extraordinary step for the environment. It’s good to see The Conservation Fund working to make it happen.

  3. With 40 years as a professional forester in the forest industry I embrace Evan’s message. The industry has evolved by economic and social necessity. The business of growing and harvesting trees has matured while at the same becoming young again through innovation. Yes, some in the audience were skeptical; I’ll bet there were more the that thought to themselves “the time is right for this message.”

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