Ag advocacy: Advocating for the industry is important
Big Piney – Montana logger Bruce Vincent noted, at the 2013 Annual Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association meeting, that agriculture must continue to work toward advocating for our industry in order to be successful.
“My family is also in ranching,” Vincent said. “When they moved to Montana in 1904, half of them started doing beef cattle and the other half started forestry – part of us kill trees and part of us kill cows – we’re really popular.”
Vincent noted that the logging industry came under fire over 30 years ago.
“We operate with the same concept as you are,” he told the cattlemen. “We practice stewardship, and we operate only with the consent of the public. We just started losing our consent before you did.”
Vincent noted that 30 years ago, he noticed that the media started attacking forestry.
“We had 100 years of great history in managing trees,” Vincent explained. “Then, loggers started showing up on the front page of Montana newspapers that we were destroying our streams – we were destroying Montana’s water.”
He noted that in the 70s and 80s, loggers had recognized that some of their practices weren’t perfect, so they began to adapt.
“We developed the first self-conducted, certifiable, riparian management best practices,” he explained, adding that even opponents of the logging industry admitted that loggers were not a large contributing factor in water quality issues.
“Michael Scott, head of the Wilderness Society in Montana, was asked to address 700 loggers,” Vincent said. “We asked him how much of Montana’s water quality problems are being caused by logging – he said three percent.”
Only 20 percent of the three percent was based on current practice, dropping the logger’s contribution to water quality problems to 0.6 percent.
“If 99.4 percent of the water quality issues lie elsewhere, why were we making the front page?” asked Vincent. “He said, ‘You are visible, and you are easy.’”
Vincent further noted that politicians have begun to write off the rural communities, and as a result, they become more of a target.
When talking to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vincent noted that reintroducing the grizzly bear in the areas they were logging was important because historical populations of bear had been there.
“‘We have to restore it back to where it used to be,’” he said.
Vincent asked, then, about reestablishing the Golden Bear in the heart of Sacramento – after all, that is historical habitat, to which the FWS said, “Can you imagine the public outcry?”
“It was laughable to try a reintroduction with an urban setting with the political ability,” Vincent explained. “They were going to do it in our rural areas because we were perceived to be politically impotent. They were going to steamroll us because they could.”
He also marked that the five percent of the industry that isn’t meeting the same expectations that the rest of the industry has are detrimental.
“Ask yourself, where is your industry right now?” Vincent said, adding, “and we have to understand that crazy can happen at home.”
The opinion of the public is constantly shifting, but Vincent noted that the opinions of the populations on the outskirts – the crazy – will never find the middle.
“A pendulum always finds the middle,” he explains. “It swings one way for a while, and the other way for a while, but it always find the middle. These moral and ethical decisions that people are making about earth will not get to the middle.”
However, he added that the truth will prevail, if the truth has a champion.
“The truth is what the public believes,” he said. “We have got to be out there stating our facts and stating the truth.”
He also noted that it isn’t enough to rely on leaders of agriculture organizations and interest groups to get the word out.
“They can’t do this for us – they can equip us, and they can help us understand, but they can’t do the battles,” he explained.
Vincent also added that it is important to answer the questions that consumers are asking, rather than playing “reverse jeopardy.”
“We started answering all the questions that the public wasn’t asking,” Vincent said of the logging industry. “We were telling them what we wanted them to know.”
And occasionally, Vincent noted that the advocacy for the timber industry was at the sacrifice of other industries.
“We beat up our friends, and we missed what the public was asking about,” he said. “We didn’t spend one dime on the stump, and that is what they wanted to know about.”
The moral of the story, Vincent said, it is important to be in the public’s eye and to be advocating for the industry in a positive manner that answers the public’s questions.
“You are on the frontlines now for agriculture,” said Vincent. “You are leading the pack and doing a number of things that I wish the timber industry had done sooner.”
“We need to be talking to the public,” commented Vincent, “and we need to be winning in the Court of Public Opinion, because ultimately, The Court of Public Opinion defines the law.”