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Thirty-two years of telling the forestry story

I’ve always been a storyteller, but for the past 32 years I’ve made a career of it. First I worked for 16 years for the Oregon State University Extension Service, and now for the last 16 as director of forestry for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). Throughout my career I’ve had successes and failures, and I’ve learned a few things.

My storytelling takes many forms. Sometimes I call it teaching; sometimes writing; sometimes giving a presentation to a service group; sometimes making a video; sometimes moderating a panel; sometimes visiting with friends over a glass of wine. 

Below are my top 10 tips for telling the forestry story. A longer version of this article was published in the October issue of the Society of American Foresters’ Forestry Source newsletter.

1. Know the facts – A favorite storyteller from my college years was Emily Latella, played by Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live.” Emily would go on and on about some misunderstanding she had with the facts. Then when “Weekend Update” newscaster Chevy Chase would point out what the real facts were, Emily would say “Oh… never mind!” Being the one to say “never mind” is not good. I’ve found myself in this situation once or twice, and it has taken a lot of work to overcome it.

2. Know your audience – Interests, background, education and knowledge levels are different for each audience, and even from individual to individual. For instance, policymakers are known to be smart people, but their policy knowledge is generally about like the Platte River: a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s very likely your audience is not as expert as you are. Never over-assume what they know. 

3. Develop messages that resonate with the audience – Telling a story to high school students is very different than telling it to policymakers, professional foresters or the adult public. Telling the public that a certain forest management practice such as clearcutting is economically efficient is a waste of time and might even be counterproductive. Telling the same audience that clearcutting can help create habitat for species such as songbirds and pollinators is much more effective. Crafting the correct message for the people you’re talking to requires knowing the audience.

4. Find a hook – A hook is a story starter that gets people’s attention and encourages them to read, listen or watch. One of my favorite hooks is in the old Euell Gibbons Grape Nuts commercial, where he starts out asking his audience if they’ve ever eaten a pine tree. He then states that “many parts are edible,” and makes a comparison to Grape Nuts, which apparently also has many edible parts. I must advise you to be very careful with using humor as a hook. I’ve found out over the years that it can be very easy to offend people, and offended people rarely listen to the rest of your story.

5. Follow the KISSING principle – I learned the KISSING principle early on. This acronym stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid; I’m No Genius. Although most people do think they’re “smarter than the average bear,” many actually are not. As experts, foresters often try to tell people everything we know about a subject because we think they’ll be impressed with our knowledge and therefore believe what we tell them. I’ve learned that it doesn’t actually work that way. Instead of attracting listeners with my level of knowledge, I lose them in the details.

6. Tell the story in a journalistic style – Put the most important point you want to get across first, and then add the details. In newswriting, this is known as the “inverted pyramid” format. Don’t build a deductive case. Foresters are generally trained in the scientific method, and we like to communicate in this way. Don’t do it; use the journalistic style for your story. Most people read only headlines of articles as they scan a paper, journal or newsletter. Some read the first paragraph, fewer read half the story, and almost no one reads to the end. If you don’t have your main point in the first or second sentence, most people will never read it. By the way, if you’ve made it this far in my blog, you probably are “smarter than the average bear.” (I sure hope that was funny.)

7. Recognize the emotional response of the audience – People would generally rather hear good news than bad news. Messages that affirm the good in people are readily acceptable by most folks. This point ties back to understanding the audience. People value wildlife, water quality, beauty and recreation from their forests. The good news is that foresters also value wildlife, water quality, beauty and recreation. Explaining forest management in terms of these elements will likely get a positive response from your audience. 

8. Use the right messenger – Public polling research by OFRI and others has identified that not all messengers are equally trusted and listened to by the public or policymakers. People today have an inherent distrust of corporations, the federal government and environmental groups. They have a much stronger trust for university professors, state government employees, family forest landowners and professional foresters. I believe part of the reason for the trust is based on the relative position on the education versus advocacy continuum. At OSU Extension we always said that when advocacy starts, education stops. 

9. Measure the audience’s reaction – One of the advantages of being a professional storyteller is you have the resources to see how effective your stories are. When we run an educational advertisement, we follow up with surveys to see if people recall our ads, if they understand the point we were making, and how our ads may have changed what they believe about important issues. This helps influence the messaging we use in future campaigns. 

10. Repeat, repeat, repeat – Someone once told me that the word repeat has made the shampoo industry millions of dollars. This is also the million-dollar word when it comes to storytelling. Every time I hear or tell a story, I get a different level of meaning out of it. People forget. They also love to hear stories they know.

I hope you find these tips helpful – and thanks for telling our forestry story. 

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy
Director of Forestry

Traveling to Tasmania

I’m in a forest filled with eucalyptus trees, standing next to ferns taller than I am. I’m definitely feeling like I’m not in Kansas anymore! Or, to be biologically correct, I’m not in my native Douglas-fir forest type. Instead, I’m far from home in a forest on Mount Wellington in Tasmania, overwhelmed by all the plants and animals I’m seeing that I’ve only ever read about in textbooks.  

I’m here representing the OFRI as a guest of the Forest Education Foundation Inc. (FEF). FEF is nonprofit educational institution that has been providing learning experiences for teachers and students throughout Tasmania for over 25 years. It’s a bit like OFRI in that it receives its core funding by way of sponsorship from Sustainable Timber Tasmania and the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania. And, just like OFRI, education is a priority for the foundation. 

Last year two educators from FEF, Darcy Vickers and Hannah Kench, visited Oregon to find out about K-12 forestry education resources and programs offered here. They toured the state and visited the sites of various forest education field programs, including OFRI’s Natural Resources Education Program at The Oregon Garden as well as Forest Today and Forever’s Forest Field Days program in Lane County and the Oregon Department of Forestry’s program at the Tillamook Forest Center.  

They were also very interested in OFRI’s Oregon Forest Literacy Plan (OFLP), a conceptual framework for educators that lists concepts about our forests every K-12 student should know. Their goal was to write a plan for Tasmanian forests following our model.  

This year Darcy and Hannah invited me – plus Rick Zenn, a senior fellow at the World Forestry Center in Portland, and Joan Mason Ruud, state director of Talk About Trees, a classroom program for preschool through eighth-grade students that’s funded largely by OFRI – to visit Tasmania and present sessions on K-12 forestry education at their “The Stories Behind the Trees” conference, held Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.The conference was attended by classroom teachers and representatives from their forest sector.

On the first day of the conference, the Forest Education Foundation rolled out their forest literacy plan, which is modeled after OFRI’s Oregon Forest Literacy Plan. Conference attendees discussed the plan and why it’s important to both foresters and educators.

The second day of the conference was a forest tour that featured their new Forest Field Day program. It’s modeled after the Forest Today and Forever program Darcy and Hannah observed in Lane County last year. It featured a series of learning stations in the forest where students learn about various forest-related topics, including soil, wildlife and wood products. Instead of measuring Douglas-fir trees at the forest inventory station, we measured eucalyptus trees! The pilot program was well received by conference attendees.

It was inspiring and gratifying to see how well these “Oregon ideas” for K-12 forest education worked in Tasmania. I’m looking forward to more communication and sharing of ideas with the Tasmanian educators.

Norie Dimeo-Ediger
Director of K-12 Education Programs

Forester Friday: Fran Cafferata Coe

Forester Friday features an Oregon forester with an interesting or unique contribution to the forestry field. This series is meant to highlight and recognize these stories.

This week’s Forester Friday isn’t about a forester, but someone who is still important to the forest sector. Fran Cafferata Coe is a Certified Wildlife Biologist® who works with foresters. She is the owner of Cafferata Consulting, a firm that specializes in helping timber companies manage wildlife in working forests. So while Fran isn’t a forester, she still plays a vital role in forestry. 

Fran has been a wildlife biologist for 20 years now, and has owned her company for 10 years. Her daily responsibilities include writing and implementing wildlife management plans, conducting species surveys, and tracking wildlife policy in the state. In addition, she also helps foresters understand policies to ultimately protect wildlife and help keep forests healthy.

Along with her job experience, education has played an important role in Fran’s career. Fran attended Oregon State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife.

For this profile, Fran answered a series of questions about her forest story via email. Here are some of her responses. 

What is your favorite part of your job?

Besides working in the woods by myself? I love working with foresters to make a difference for wildlife while still growing trees and keeping working forests working. I also love seeing wildlife out in the woods. I’m out at night looking for owls, so I get to see all kinds of critters like bear, cougar and elk. I especially love the woods in the springtime when the red flowering currant starts to bloom. 

What drove you or why did you decide to work in your field?

I’ve always loved being in the woods. I grew up in a forestry family, which definitely influenced my decision to become a wildlife biologist. I feel strongly that working forests provide great habitat for wildlife. I’m passionate about helping foresters intentionally manage for wildlife, and I also work hard to help the public understand the value working forests provide for wildlife. 

What is something you want people to know about your job and/or the impact of your job?

All ages of forests provide homes for wildlife, and the way we manage our forests makes a difference for wildlife. All of us have a responsibility to manage for healthy forests, and that includes managing for wildlife. With fairly simple but intentional actions, we can all make a difference for wildlife. 

What is your favorite outdoor activity in Oregon?

My heart belongs to the mountains. I love backpacking each summer with my best friends. We find a new place to go each summer.

Fran is just one of many people who help foresters protect wildlife and keep forests healthy and safe for all. 

If you know an Oregon forester with an interesting or unique story we should share, email OFRI Social Media Intern Autumn Barber at barber@ofri.org. 

Forester Friday: Casey Clapp

Forester Friday features an Oregon forester with an interesting or unique contribution to the forestry field. This series is meant to highlight and recognize these stories. 

Forestry is predominantly thought of as being a profession set out in the woods, far from cities, but what about forestry in urban settings? This week’s Forester Friday highlights urban forester Casey Clapp, a development tree inspector for the city of Portland. 

Casey is responsible for reviewing and permitting street-tree work associated with housing or commercial development in Portland. Some of his daily responsibilities include assessing street trees for health and structural condition, and balancing whether they should be preserved or removed to make way for urban development. He works with public entities such as the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Bureau of Environmental Services, as well as private sector contractors and property owners, to manage removals, pruning and planting of street trees during their construction projects. He also does emergency response work when needed to help clear streets of downed limbs and trees during storms.

In addition to job experience, education has played an important role in Casey’s career. He attended Oregon State University for a bachelor’s in forest management, and continued on for a master’s in environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts. In addition, he became a certified arborist and qualified tree-risk assessor through the International Society of Arboriculture.

Close up of Casey in a forest.

For this profile, Casey answered a series of questions about his forestry story via email. Here are some of his responses.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of my work is being a top resource for the city and citizens when it comes to our urban trees. Many folks in the city are concerned about the loss of urban canopy, and it’s my job to be on the front line fighting to retain and protect trees and their growing spaces within the city. It’s very satisfying to me to represent the people of the city and fight to protect a resource that is so important to everyone.   

What drove you or why did you decide to work in forestry?

My main drive was a love and passion for trees and forests. I could not learn enough about how trees functioned, both as individuals and as a forest. Ecology, biology, physiology and taxonomy – all these subjects fascinated me, and the question of how they interact drove me to continue to learn as much as I could. In traditional forestry, the objectives range from extracting forest resources to management for fuels reduction. In urban forestry, the main objective is managing urban trees for risk and for the ecosystem services they provide to the city and citizens. With my current position, I get to apply the science of trees to complex situations to make the best call for the good of the people and the tree, and this real-world problem-solving is very satisfying.

What is something you want people to know about your job and/or the impact of your job?

I want people to know that it is not simply filled with tree-huggers hoping to save every tree in the world. Trees are an extremely important component of whatever ecosystem they’re in, including the urban ecosystem. My job is to manage trees as a resource, both in an ecosystem sense and also in a cultural sense. Sometimes this means retaining a tree, and other times it means removing it and replanting a new one. The long-term impact of the work I do will hopefully be seen in 40 years when fully treed streets grace all parts of the city and help maintain it as a comfortable place to live in the face of climate uncertainty.   

What is your favorite outdoor activity in Oregon?

My favorite outdoor activity in Oregon has got to be backpacking and camping. I love to strap everything I need onto my back and walk into the wilderness for days at a time. Oregon wildernesses are some of the most outstanding places in the nation, and hold such unique, beautiful landscapes that it’s impossible to not be stunned by them. As a fan of our forests and the plants in them, getting as far into the wilderness as possible affords me the chance to see plants and environments that one just can’t find anywhere else. My favorite place in Oregon is the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon. If you haven’t been, this area is one of most unique ecosystems in the state, and the beauty just can’t be beat.

Casey was also featured in the podcast Ologies with Alie Ward, where he talks about his passion for all things trees. Listen here

If you know an Oregon forester with an interesting or unique story we should share, email OFRI Social Media Intern Autumn Barber at barber@ofri.org. 


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