Canada’s forestry industry needs to begin telling its story, according to Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario.
In late June, Keen delivered the plan for the It Takes a Forest campaign, at the Saw Tech Log Expo in Renfrew, Ont. The campaign is a collaborative led by Forests Ontario, supported by the forestry industry, municipalities, educational institutions and environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs).
Through billboards, ittakesaforest.ca and social media, the campaign is providing in-depth information about sustainable forest management.
“The challenge for the forestry industry is to get out and tell our story,”Keen said. “We have done an absolutely pathetic job of it, quite frankly, for a long, long time.”
As an example, Keen explained when Mateway Park, located in the Ottawa Valley, fell in the anti-logging crosshairs of a “left wing” ENGO, the forestry industry was silent. As a result, public pressure from urban areas led to the park losing a big chunk of harvestable land. The decision was also spurred by a Toronto-based politician.
“Of course, the forestry sector was doing nothing as discussion. They weren’t even really disputing it. They just laid low hoping it would go away. It didn’t,” Keen said.
While urban residents may not understand the benefits of the forestry industry, Keen noted cities are home to the majority on the voting population.
“We have to inform those in the urban sector of how important our forests are and how important management is,” Keen said. “The public doesn’t know what we do.”
Forestry benefits unknown
Forestry management has the ability to enhances recreational opportunities, water quality and wildlife habitat.
“There’s a whole litany of research that proves the health benefits from a healthy forest,” Keen said. “Most people don’t understand that.”
He added many of the family-run businesses in forestry date back several generations. Therefore, this human connection to the industry, needs to emerge in the public eye.
“It’s not a business for people here in the Ottawa Valley. it’s a culture. That is something that people from the city generally don’t understand,” Keen said. “When you start putting information together that puts people in front of the industry, it makes a difference. People start to think it is important, even if they’re downtown.”
The campaign aims to proactively deliver the human side of forestry, rather than a reactive response to its opposition.
“It inspires thought, it doesn’t fall dead,”Keen said. “It takes a forest to grow a community. it takes a forest to produce maple syrup. It’s these things that you’ve got use to engage the public.”
Following numerous public consultations, the campaign is now refining its message to deliver to its partners.
“Now we’re starting to get out there and tell our story,” Keen said. “And we have a great story to tell.”