The workshop allowed a significant amount of time for structured and informal discussion, some in small groups. Several themes and questions emerged repeatedly.
CONSIDERING THE MESSAGE ITSELF
The workshop was based on the premise that there are clear messages that professional foresters would like to share with landowners, but presenters and participants raised questions about the content of those messages. One noted that it would be important to be clear about “the underlying facts that we all agree on” with respect to what landowners ought to be doing. Many cited the primary goal of keeping forests as forests, noting that idea has broad appeal. However, some suggested that more work needs to be done to elaborate these messages.
“How do we take all of this education and all of this science and water it down to a sixth- or eighth-grade education level—how do we take all of this great information and bring it down to the level where people can understand it, accept it, and take action with it?” asked one participant. “We are potentially putting together a master strategy for how to communicate about climate change to family forest owners, individual owners, community owners, but the missing piece is: What do we actually tell the landowners to do differently than they’re doing now,” another commented. “If we can identify those actions, those critical steps, those basic steps that landowners can take and train our extension special-
ists and our foresters to convey those actions as a step, then that will be a great outcome,” another noted.
Several participants observed that simply raising awareness of the issues of forest management and the idea that it will be beneficial to prepare now for coming changes will be valuable. “Persuading someone that they really should care about this is a huge undertaking,” one person commented. “We don’t know. Nobody knows, climatologists don’t know, forest ecologists don’t know, we don’t know what the future is going to hold exactly,” another pointed out. But, the participant continued, “We do know there are certain attributes that certain ecosystems have and some don’t that predispose them to higher or lower levels of risk based on outcomes of a variety of different future conditions.” Many seemed to agree that the best focus would be on very practical implementation of practices that will be beneficial in the short term while also beneficial from a climate perspective.
Another audience member suggested that the focus should not be so much on what to tell landowners, but on preparing the service providers to have the best information and science available so they can integrate that information into guidance tailored to the specific forest ecosystems and threats in a particular region. Another agreed, noting that the service providers are “all over the place.” University extension and state agency staff are likely to be well informed, this person added, but in some regions there are foresters “who don’t need to be licensed and probably have no continuing education requirements, and maybe some of them have never tried to update their knowledge about how you manage forests under these conditions. And we have the whole spectrum across the country.”
On the other hand, another noted, “we may not know exactly where we are headed, but we have some good messages: Take care of your forest, keep it healthy, engage professionals, talk to your neighbors, learn from others. What we have to remember is that people care about trees and forests.”
IS IT BETTER NOT TO TALK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
A related point made by several attendees was that in many cases, it might make sense not to speak directly about climate change. They noted that doing so “puts a lot of people off” but also made the point that there is an ethical responsibility to share this knowledge. The reality of climate change also “ties many different threads together, especially in terms of mitigation,” one person noted. It may be a tougher sell to argue for forest-related policies without a larger narrative of climate change benefits and risks. One participant suggested that discussions about the impact of climate change on forests and the role forest management can
play in addressing climate change are needed. Such discussions can provide a basis for tackling the regulatory environment, but are also essential in preparing a broader social consensus on climate change and its long-term implications. While it might be prudent to leave climate change out of any one forest management discussion, in order to be more effective with a skeptical audience, the issue itself cannot be avoided altogether, the participant said.
LISTENING TO LANDOWNERS
Discussion returned frequently to the importance of engaging landowners, understanding their own goals for their land, and getting a sense of what they already know and what their needs are before pushing recommendations on them. Many also highlighted the importance of working within the communities in which the owners live, rather than expecting to drop in and offer advice that will be respected.
One participant noted that he intended to go back to his community and ask landowners about what they are seeing in their woods—to begin a conversation through people’s first-hand experiences. The conversation “doesn’t have to be profound,” he added; “it could be invasive species, it could be that this tree is leafing out or that tree is dropping its leaves or this invasive showed up or whatever.” The value would be in encouraging landowners to communicate with one another so they can realize for themselves, as the participant noted, “‘I think I’ve seen that too but I didn’t know what it was,’ or ‘wow, it’s not just me but it’s happening all around.’”
Beginning with people who are already engaging with forest management and climate change issues is a promising way to engage in a community, many noted. If “you get your foot in the door” with a local group on other sorts of conservation efforts, for example, then later it might be easier to engage them in conversations related to climate change adaptation activities, a participant observed. “Whether it is legacy planning, community forest, peer-to-peer networks, targeted outreach groups, social media, stewardship forest, and keystone cooperatives, regional conservation partnerships extension, faith communities, there are audiences that we can get our foot in the door or have our foot in the door already,” another added.
Another participant wondered if it would make sense to work only with those people who understand that climate change is occurring and would like information about what to do. “They already want to take action,” this person observed. “As an educator it’s a lot more fun for me to work with people who are motivated and interested and learning, and they’re more likely to take action.” It may be that once those groups have
had success in implementing forest management, their stories will reach others. “We can point to real people on the ground, not just public lands where nice things have been done. It gives us stories that are real and based in those communities,” he added. Several participants emphasized the power of stories, advising that “when you’re reaching out to landowners, tell stories, not just the facts—you tell them convincing anecdotes, because everybody has facts.”
ORIENTING MESSAGES TO THE OWNERS’ GOALS
“You need to meet landowners where they are,” many participants observed. “If you engage with a landowner, nine times out of ten it’s at their invitation,” one noted, adding that “whatever they’re interested in doing, whether it’s watching wildlife, whether it’s hunting, almost in every case the things we would do for them as service providers or technical assistance specialists or natural resource professionals in some way, shape, or form is going to have a positive outcome for carbon, for climate.” Various participants noted the potential for conflict when the goals and objectives that forestland owners and those who want to guide forest management have diverged. They emphasized how important it is that service providers utilize the whole range of tools education and social science research can suggest to align agendas for the long-term benefit of owners, society, and the forest ecosystems themselves.
“We tend to teach people in the way that we learned ourselves,” another observed, but that may not be the best way to reach people. “Adults want to learn a specific thing,” this person added. “If there is something they need, they go find information.” If landowners have the opportunity to help identify what will work for them, they will be more open to it. “As they try it, they learn different things,” one person noted, “and as they do that they are in a better position in the community to share it with somebody else. Peer-to-peer education is a powerful tool. There aren’t enough of us to do the work that needs to be done.”
It is critical to understand what drives landowners, many participants said. One pointed out that landowners need to get a financial return on their property or they will not be able to pay their property taxes: “You get basically three years and you’ve lost your land. People don’t realize that driving force to raise money from our land.”
Another noted, however, that “forest and people are all part of a system. We’re all in this together. Some people are highly motivated by dollars, but people are motivated by other things.” It’s necessary to identify what those things are, he went on. “We heard about the southern forest and the northern forest and the eastern forest, and we heard about the
woods in the backyard, all these things represent different places and different people.”
On this point, another noted that if the goal is to protect forestland, there are tools. Easement programs and other policies can make a difference, he noted, but he suggested that “the best way we can keep forests as forests is to have a healthy and viable and robust forest product industry.” If there are no markets, forest management is difficult. Without funds, conservation is difficult, he noted. “Without the private sector providing incentives, along with the public sector, we’re never going to have enough public resources to ease or cost-share our way or give tax breaks, and we’re going to need that private sector incentive. So without forestry infrastructure and without that private market, we could talk about management all day long, but who’s going to do it? Are we going to be paying people to do it, or are we going to have people pay us to help us get the job done?”
A related theme was the importance of earning the trust of the owners one wishes to reach. In some areas there may be a legacy of mistrust, as well as lack of clarity about the motives of different people and groups who offer advice to landowners, several participants noted. One commented that a “landowner may be thinking ‘I don’t trust you because you stole my grandpa’s property, you even stole the land itself, you didn’t give him what the timber was worth, why should I trust you?’” A participant from a tribal community agreed that this is important, noting that “we have become experienced with the history of people from the outside coming and telling us what’s best for us, without having our voice heard in that process, and that creates a barrier right there.”
Others noted that any attempt to change behavior can be met with distrust by those who may feel manipulated. A language of trust that is based on mutual respect and appreciation might be at odds with strategies for encouraging individuals or groups to behave or act in ways others prefer, as one participant noted; the challenge lies in establishing bridges between different interests and goals in ways that feel genuine and honest.
A participant noted that “getting the scientists and the practitioners in the room together is the only way to do this….The goals for preserving, protecting, and increasing forestland cannot be accomplished by foresters, forest ecologists, forest entomologists, forest economists, forest anything,”
he suggested. “There are not enough of us to do that, so how do we get that done? We need to rely on peers. And not just because we need more people to do it but because it’s the right way to do it.”
According to the statement of task, a primary goal for the workshop was to explore effective strategies that service providers can use to engage forestland owners in discussions about climate change. The social scientists and practitioners who made presentations and participants offered many perspectives during productive discussions. A final question that emerged was how service providers might get the foundational education and training to professionalize their approaches in communication, outreach, consulting, and dialogue. Discussion highlighted the importance of better preparing future foresters for these challenges through postsecondary education and in other ways during their university education. Several participants also suggested embedding appropriate elements into a system of professional development and learning for the intermediaries between the science of climate change and the application through sound forestry practices across the nation.