Timber company executives, environmentalists and university scientists will come together next year for a forest policy conference like the one Teddy Roosevelt convened in 1905 leading to the creation of the national forest system.
Corporate officers for the Weyerhaeuser Co., International Paper Co., Union Camp Corp. and Champion International Corp. were among those who joined with officials of The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council at the National Press Club Tuesday to announce plans for the “Seventh American Forest Conference.”
The first one was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1882 and the last was here in 1975.
Next year’s will be the first one involving such diverse interests regarding forest resources, logging and manufacturing of forest products. It will attempt to set goals and principles within which long-term forest policies can be established, the sponsors said.
“We want to find things we can act on rather than fight about,” said John Gordon, co-director of the conference and former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
“We’re seeking common ground, trying to build bridges where they did not exist - bridges between people with radically different views,” he said.
Charles Bingham, recently retired executive vice president of Weyerhaeuser, symbolized the significance of the event when he asked National Audubon Society Vice President Brock Evans to join him in responding to a question from reporters.
“The fact we’re both in the same room is an historic event,” Bingham said.
“This nation’s forests are of indescribable importance to the quality of life in this country,” he said. “Whether we are talking about recreation or wood crops, what we are talking about here must survive the electoral cycles and economic cycles of this country.”
Evans, who described himself as “an old forest warrior who came of age in the Pacific Northwest 30 years ago,” said environmentalists were snubbed at the 1975 conference.
“We at the National Audubon Society are very hopeful this process will work,” he said.
Paul Hansen, executive director of the Izaak Walton League, said the three-day conference “could be an anecdote for the divisiveness that seems to be going on in this country.”
“We can do a lot more in this country by consensus than conflict. We’re hopeful,” added Michael Francis, a timber specialist for The Wilderness Society. “The conservation ethic has been missing from forest policy during most of this decade.”
Arthur Smith, the conference historian, said each of the past forest conferences - also held here in 1946, 1953 and 1963 - came at critical times in U.S. forest history, especially the one President Roosevelt called after the turn of the century.
“It was probably the most important meeting on forests in 100 years,” Smith said.