Introducing SAF2021: Forests for All 

July 14, 2021
Written by J. Keith Gilless and Damian Adams
These are increasingly interesting times. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the 2021 National Convention Program Committee saw a need to lean into some difficult conversations that our members were having, both within and beyond the traditional realm of forests and forestry. To quote Gifford Pinchot, “Conservation is the application of common sense to the common problems for the common good.” The SAF2021 convention theme Forests for All reflects a need to take some of these common problems head-on and elevate the conversation around them as a professional society and community. From forest health to cultural and technological changes, we face many challenges -- but also opportunities -- that will require common sense and shared purpose to experience what Pinchot described as “vast possibilities of our great future.” 

Our last two conventions challenged us to think about what forests do for society (2019’s Goods from the Woods) and our shared experiences (2020’s From Metropolis to Wilderness: Foresters Rooted in Conservation). This year we saw a need to extend our recent discussions focused on forest products and our role as foresters in communities, the economy, and forest stewardship to reflect on the social dimensions of forestry. In 2021, we continue the tradition of national convention themes that push the profession forward and help us engage in needed conversations around forests and forestry. 

Forests for All is a logical extension of the last two themes, building on their consideration of the benefits flowing from forests and our role in producing, managing, and sustaining that flow of benefits. Extending our discussion to the broader society for which all of that takes place, and from which we receive our social license to engage in such activities, we felt that it was important for SAF2021 to give special consideration to voices that are sometimes muted or absent from our professional meetings. 

The COVID-19 pandemic may not give us the opportunity to convene together in person, but in some ways this year’s virtual format for convention reflects the reality of how forest products, forest managers, and the broader society are linked as a triad not bound by space or time. 

Forestry operates in a dynamic environment, which is challenging, but also exciting. COVID-19 exacerbated some of these challenges, and society’s response to it (and the Zoom fatigue and strained eyes many of us have experienced) promises to spur major structural changes to our economy as well. Our members will rise to the challenge, and we can all benefit from sharing our knowledge and experience as we do. 

Major change brings with it an opportunity for considerable reflection on where we’re going, how we want to get there, and why the journey matters. Our country is having difficult conversations about our shared future. It may be time to rethink, for example, what voices are absent from the decisions about who benefits from the flow of benefits from the forest, and how they feed back into how forests are managed. Some of these discussions can be challenging and uncomfortable, but those who choose forestry and natural resources as a profession these days aren’t doing so because they are particularly satisfied with the status quo. With many of our peers increasingly glued to screens and disconnected from nature, forestry almost feels like an act of social rebellion. 

While the focus of the 2021 SAF National Convention is a little different than years past, the program continues the long tradition of having inspiring keynote speakers and panel discussions. Our opening keynote will feature adventurer Brian O’Malley who will stimulate us to identify our own personal Mt. Everest. We have several plenary and Friday Focus On panels with experts that will engage ‘boots on the ground’ perspectives on diversity and sustainability, forestry in a post-pandemic world, forest health and resilience, and forests and their value to users from differing perspectives and traditions. Our closing plenary by NCX (formerly SilviaTerra) Co-founder Zack Parisa looks forward at how forestry could be transformed by carbon markets. 

We continue the practice of engaging topics that matter to our members, with some concurrent sessions led by SAF Working Group members on a variety of topics that will look and feel familiar to past attendees. Within the virtual format, there will be many opportunities to engage in small group and even one-on-one conversations; we are planning a lively and engaging Tree’via Bowl experience, and we will honor our new SAF Fellows, Presidential Field Foresters, and many others who have had outsized impacts through their work. 

The 2021 SAF National Convention promises to be exciting, engaging, and memorable. The Program Committee for your 2021 SAF National Convention looks forward to seeing you (virtually) in November! Register now, and clear your calendars for time to reconnect, get inspired, and learn both from your peers and new voices from outside the profession. 

J. Keith Gilless and Damian Adams serve as the general chair and program chair, respectively, for the 2021 Committee on National Convention Programs. This article will be featured in the August edition of The Forestry Source.