I was the registration chair at the Ontario Professional Foresters Association’s 2015 Annual General Meeting and Conference, which meant that I also got to attend some very interesting sessions. One of these sessions was, “Communicating Forestry.” This session left me feeling conflicted.
It was when a slide about an increase in tree cover loss in Russia and Canada glowed on screen that I sat on the edge of my seat. The slide was about a report put out by the World Resources Institute. Without mincing words, I have the highest respect for this organization, so when WRI showed up on screen, I was curious. The speaker put this report up as an example of “miscommunication.” She said, the headline was misleading because tree cover loss was mostly due to forest fires. Perhaps the headline could’ve been a tad specific – wildfires increase loss of tree cover in Russia and Canada; tree cover loss remains globally high. But I can see why WRI chose to go with “Tree cover loss spikes in Russia and Canada, remains high globally.” The headline is not wrong, it summarizes the report and also gets a person’s attention.
The speaker went on to say that words such as “deforestation” need to be redefined, and clear-cuts should not be negative terminology. I can see where this comes from – to professional and industrial foresters whose very bread and butter is trees, even the hint of a slight might mean that they have to buy store brand butter rather than the expensive one. What surprised me was her advocating change/not using of certain text books (I have no idea what text books) because those books had one line that was not in keeping with what professional foresters associated with deforestation/clear cuts (reminiscent of Texas and India), which seemed irrational.
Global warming is rapidly changing landscapes, and it is yet to be seen how clear cuts and deforestation will react to it … whether 30 or 50 years down the line, clear-cut and deforested areas will grow trees that once held root there. So to advocate something as insignificant as changing the definition of deforestation to please industry seems like grasping at straws. Just because President George Bush called it a surge, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a troop increase. Deforestation, according to the Oxford dictionary, is an act of cutting down or burning trees in an area. Whether that is followed by agriculture or planting palm trees is what will define that act.
Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of environmentalists/conservationists has been the lack of good communicators. As we stand on the brink of climate change disaster, perhaps it is still not too late to find people who will defend deforestation for what it actually is – and call cutting a tree, cutting a tree rather than harvesting a tree, use the right words to raise awareness; a call to action rather than couch behind them.