I’m a Chartered Forester, and very proud to be so. I believe passionately that forestry and professional foresters have a more important role in society today, than at anytime in modern history. As a forester I recognise that my profession encompasses so many and diverse social, environmental and economic dimensions. Foresters think long-term as perhaps few other professionals do, or need to, given that they care for trees that will be flourishing for our children’s children. Forestry exemplifies sustainability.
Not everyone agrees with my sentiments of course. Two years ago I stood up publicly for forestry when The Guardian newspaper published a story about a woodland that was felled while it was being featured in a series of paintings, unfortunately work in progress, by artist David Hockney. Both the original article and some of the online comments that followed the publication of my response letter in the paper, illustrated perfectly the degree of misunderstanding and sometimes prejudice in the public about forestry and the role of the forester:- they make for an interesting read.
A common response when I’m asked of my profession is “Oh, you cut down trees then!” I don’t think I’ve ever been asked instead about how many trees I’ve planted, how many landscapes I’ve enhanced or water and air purified, how much habitat I’ve provided for wildlife or carbon I’ve locked-up, or timber produced for someone’s front door, roof joists or kitchen cupboards.
“… forestry” is often seen by the public, environmentalists, media and purist academics as synonymous with dirty boots, deforestation, clear-felling, rape of the earth, displacement of indigenous humans and loss of other species.”
“The forest law [historical] was very harsh and was enforced by a hated body of men called ‘foresters’, whose activities were called ‘forestry’. They were the villains of popular literature …”
The quote above comes from a fascinating article1 by the former president of IUFRO – the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations. Professor Burley proposed a change in the ‘F’ within IUFRO from Forestry to Forest. Burley was concerned about falling membership numbers and wondered whether this was in part because so many research scientists (e.g. those engaged in anthropology, climatology, ecology, entomology, geography, hydrology, pathology and soil science) did not necessarily feel part of traditional ‘forestry’.
So it seems that forestry is a term not only misunderstood by the public but also by leading scientists. IUFRO changed their ‘F’ to Forest in 2000 but winning the hearts and minds of the public is surely a harder battle. While deforestation continues in the less-developed world, despite the sustainable nature of modern forestry in much of the developed world, perhaps forestry will continue to have a poor reputation in the public conscience.
Burley, J. (1997). What’s in a word? IUFRO News, 26, 2. pp.1-3. International Union of Forestry Research Organizations. ISSN 02256-5145