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Your Voice and Your Vote Matters

By: Nick Smith, Executive Director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities

Your voice and your vote matters. Earlier this year #TimberUnity achieved two significant victories when the Oregon and Washington legislatures respectively failed to pass measures to increase the cost of energy on consumers and businesses. This remarkable movement continues to demonstrate the power of grassroots activism. Good things happen when working men and women get informed, get engaged, and participate in the process.

#TimberUnity Organizes in Salem and Olympia.

#TimberUnity held its largest convoy to date on Feb. 6, bringing over 9,000 people and over a thousand trucks to Salem. The convoy once again rallied opposition to the “cap-and-trade” proposal, which would raise energy costs with the purpose of reducing carbon emissions, even though proponents conceded it would have no impact on global climate change. House and Senate Republican legislators left the capital after supermajority Democrats rejected referring the measure to voters. Denied a quorum, the session adjourned without a vote on cap-and-trade.

On March 3 the movement organized its very first convoy to the Washington legislature in Olympia. #TimberUnity members traveled from across the state to participate in a Senate hearing on the proposed “low carbon fuel standard,” which would require fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels. After the hearing, the Senate committee declined to approve the measure.

At the Oregon Logging Conference, I had the opportunity to participate in a special seminar, titled “Your Voice and Your Vote Matters.” #TimberUnity co-founder Todd Stoffel shared his personal story and explained why he was motivated to set aside his own log trucking business to get involved in Salem and Olympia. In the process, he helped bring thousands of people into the political process- many for the very first time. The following is some of what I shared at the seminar:

Vote. Support Candidates Who Support You.

Decisions are made by the people who show up. But showing up is only half the battle. To achieve positive outcomes for our timber communities, we must play offense and defense and use many of the same tools our opponents have been using for decades. As we head into a historic election year, we must recognize that voting is the most important thing we can do. Elections are not decided “by the people.” Rather, they’re decided by the people who choose to vote.

In the coming months, candidates up and down the ballot will be coming to us for support. Ask the candidates where they stand on issues that are important to you. More importantly, support the candidates who support you. There are many ways to help candidates besides giving them your vote. Consider contributing (no amount is too small) or volunteering for a campaign, making phone calls, stuffing envelopes or putting up a sign. Your vote matters. And with so much at stake in this election, nobody can be a spectator.

Educate your Representatives. Tell Your Story.

A survey of congressional staff found that in-person visits from constituents have, by far, the most positive influence on the decisions that elected officials make. During both #TimberUnity convoys to Salem and Olympia, participants were encouraged to step inside the capitol buildings to speak with elected officials and tell their stories. If you’re unable to visit your state capital or Washington D.C., elected officials often hold town halls and small events close to home. Don’t miss opportunities to visit with your elected officials and educate them on the importance of forestry.

As I’ve written in previous columns, elected officials and their staff typically lack an understanding of forestry and logging, and may have misperceptions about what we do in the woods. If you get the chance, invite them into the forest to see what an active logging operation looks like, especially if they represent a party or hold views that differ from yours. You may be amazed by the results.

Identify the problem, Offer a Solution

Elected officials are most responsive to those who tell their personal stories, who know their facts, and are assertive but patient. The most effective advocates are those who can not only explain the problem but can offer a solution. These days legislators are eager to reduce carbon emissions, even if certain ideas can do more harm than good. We may rally against specific proposals, but we can’t afford to be absent from the climate debate.

As an alternative to cap-and-trade, #TimberUnity organizers presented the governor with a four-point plan the State of Oregon could deploy to address carbon emissions. Separately, industry advocates in Washington state have worked to position forestry as a climate solution, considering our industry’s ability to grow trees and manufacture renewable wood products that sequester carbon for generations.

During the recent legislative session in Olympia, large bipartisan majorities approved a bill recognizing the contributions of the state's entire forest sector as part of the state's climate policies. Legislators were swayed by research indicating that Washington state's private working forests and wood offsets 12 percent of our carbon emissions.

Stay informed. Answer the Call to Action.

Many men and women working in industry simply don’t have the time to be full-time advocates. In today’s polarized political and media climate, it’s difficult to find good information about what’s happening on issues that affect you. Fortunately, there are several groups that are active on social media that are intended to alert you to key developments. Both #TimberUnity and Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities have popular Facebook pages that provide information on a daily basis. When you receive an alert from pro-forestry groups, answer the call to action. It can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Together we can achieve a great future for forestry and logging. Get informed, get engaged, and participate in the process. Cast your ballot and tell your story, because your voice and your vote matters.

Nick Smith is Executive Director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (healthyforests.org), and provides public affairs services to the American Forest Resource Council in Portland, Ore.

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