The sell-outs who saved a town is an encouraging story of how a small faction on each side of a venomous battle between environmentalists and loggers talked to each other, instead of shooting at each other. It is a story that has far wider implications and lessons than just for the small town in Oregon where it happened.
The town of “John Day” exists on logging. It is by far the largest industry in the town, and people there generally hate, loath, eat for breakfast, tree-huggers, especially environmental lawyers. Susan Jane Brown was the environmental lawyer in question, when she halted logging in the nearby national forests by suing the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of woodpeckers and Redband Trout. A group of loggers, their lives and livelihoods at stake, approached Brown, and invited her to go into the forest with them…….she says she took a very large bodyguard with her.
To everyone’s surprise, nobody died, and the beginning of a conversation, which has continued over several years, has resulted in the owner of the only sawmill in town calling Brown, “my hero”.
Brown realized during that scary trip that some logging was necessary to not only preserve jobs but also to preserve the forests. The undergrowth that flourished without logging was a huge fire risk, which could easily destroy whole forests. Clearing that undergrowth supplied the saw mill with raw material, the forests were better preserved, the loggers had a livelihood, the town came alive again, and no-one died. A success story all round.
It is not all roses, however. There are still many loggers who think the saw mill owner is a sell-out, and there are still many tree-huggers who think Susan Brown is a sell-out. BUT the town and the forests were saved.
The meetings between the two sides are still fraught, but they continue to talk and, far more importantly, they continue to listen. Susan confides that food and alcohol help a lot in this process, so all meeting are followed by a meal and drinks – as an aside, I would assume that wine is not the drink of choice, given the participants….but you never know!
There is a huge lesson in this story. Most conflicts occur because one, or both, sides don’t listen, even if they do actually talk. It takes courage and vision to accept that the other side might have a point of view, even when you KNOW they don’t. This is difficult even for diplomats, who are trained in this process.
The example of the town of John Day, a courageous tree-hugging lawyer, and a turncoat sawmill owner, clearly demonstrates what can be achieved, against all odds, when a level of humility is brought to intractable conflicts. The sell-outs who saved a town is a great example.
May we all learn from this example, especially our politicians.