by Ailene Kane
Early in June, FEN received notification of a program called "Forest Teachers' Tours," after which Jonathan Carter and Maria Holt attended a press conference to voice their concerns regarding these tours. The program, organized by the Maine TREE Foundation, offers recertification credits to Maine teachers who take these all-expenses paid, three-day tours of forests, mills, "outdoor classrooms," and woodlots around the state.
The goal of the program, as described by Sherry Huber, director of the Foundation, is to use the forest as a classroom to educate and involve Maine teachers in what goes on in the woods. She also said that the tours seek to expose the "Project Learning Tree" (PLT) curriculum to more teachers. The idea, of course, is that teachers will then bring this information and these new teaching techniques back to their schools.
At first glance, the program seems like a good tool for educating Maine teachers about our state's woods. However, it is funded two-thirds by the forest products industry, and the tours are led largely by industry foresters. The fact that the paper and wood products industry is choosing to fund a tour of Maine's woods might not be disturbing, except that the state of Maine is sanctioning this biased form of education by offering recertification credits for the tours.
As FEN stated in a press release, "This program of Forest Teachers' Tours is analogous to the state offering recertification credits to teachers who spend three days with the Tobacco Industry listening to the merits of smoking. While there may be some good information dispersed, there should be no mistake about it that this program is an attempt by industry to expand their propaganda machine into the minds of our young people."
Huber asserted that the program is "open" and useful in terms of information, saying in the press conference on June 8, "We don't have any kind of agenda here except to help people get the best understanding they can of the Maine woods."
First of all, it seems impossible that a program can remain completely "open" when it is funded by an industry which has a one-sided, self-serving, short-term profit-making view of the woods. Secondly, if the Maine TREE Foundation wanted to provide truly "open" information, and "help people get the best understanding" of the woods, it would be logical to include an environmentalist, someone knowledgeable of the severe damage caused by unhealthy practices used by the industry like clearcutting and herbicide spraying, on the Forest Teachers' Tours. However, the Foundation did not choose to include such a person.
Teachers going on the tours will be accompanied by four people. Either Huber or Dennis Thompkins, of the Forest Products Council, will act as overall organizer. A forester (Paul Memmer of Sappi, another industry forester, or a forester from the Department of Conservation), a PLT-trained educator, and a "community person" will lead the tours. The idea is that this "triad approach" will offer different points of view so that the tours will not be too one-sided.
When asked about including an environmentalist in the triad, Huber asserted "These people are environmentalists," and went on to list the numerous environmental organizations in which she takes part. "These people"- Memmer of Sappi, one of the most destructive harvesters in the state, and Thompkins of the Forest Products Council, are environmentalists?
One could argue about the definition of "environmentalist," but this is not the point. The point is that the state of Maine is offering recertification credits and validating this biased source of education. It is upsetting that the industry can fund such tours, and because the funds are diffused through a private, nonprofit, and thus "unbiased," organization, the tours are deemed objective and impartial.
By going to the press conference, Carter and Holt increased public awareness about the falsity of this objectiveness. Carter expressed his concern that "the forester that takes these teachers out to the clearcut is going to make the argument without the other side being heard."
After much discussion, Huber invited both to take part in the tours, alongside the teachers. Of course, neither were welcomed to join as part of the "triad," but the presence of someone from FEN on these tours will help to make the other side heard.