THE STORY OF HOW WE SAVED A FOREST
by Stella Wiggins 2016
This is how a group of us saved most of a native forest on the Sunshine Coast threatened by development.
The Sunshine Coast was cleared of a lot old growth trees and rainforest in the early 1900s for farming and timber. Now infrastructure and housing threaten what is left.
Pockets of rainforest, old growth forest and koala habitat remain and this public forest aka Steve Irwin Way forest and Beerwah State Forest Meridan Hills Section is one of the important pockets left.
In April 2013 a local ecologist who we all respected, sent a few of us an email alerting us to the devastating loss planned for this section of old growth forest at the gateway to the Sunshine Coast.
This would also affect the little Mooloolah cemetery surrounded by that forest.
Over the course of 3 years we did the following:
DECIDED OUR GOALS eg Keep development out of the forest. Request wildlife fencing and movement structures. Lobby for the forest to be transitioned in to a National Park.
CREATED A PETITION To show we had the numbers. We used community.run (a petition available through CommunityRun.org and Get Up)
CREATED A WEBSITE
CONNECTED WITH OTHER PEOPLE We emailed those who signed the petition and started connecting on Facebook by creating a Facebook public page and private chat group.Meet those people keen to help save the forest and plan strategies using everyone's ideas, skills, available time etc
WROTE LETTERS and MEDIA UPDATES TO THE LOCAL PAPERS
VALUED AND USED SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE OFFERED BY OTHER PEOPLE eg writers, communicators, artists, musicians, environmental specialists, IT specialists, campaigners, ecologists, indigenous supporters, social networkers and other local environment groups
ORGANIZED PUBLIC EVENTS eg music, talks, sharing activity e.g. hand prints of all those who attend on a huge banner
PIGGY BACKED ON OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL EVENTS eg world environment day stall
COMMUNICATED WITH POLITICIANS And discovered that even those political parties you think don't support your goals will have individuals who do, so find those individuals
COMMUNICATED AND MET THOSE ABLE TO INFLUENCE THE OUTCOME WE WANTED
IGNORED THOSE OPPOSED TO OUR GOALS There will be those who support development at any cost to the environment. There will be friends who try to talk you out of your plan to spend time on this goal.
KEPT GOING Often just when you think you are getting nowhere you will have a small or even a large win
REWARDED AND CELEBRATED ANY ACHIEVEMENTS
REMEMBERED INTELLIGENCE IS GOLD
We continually referred to Barry Trail's advice below:
Barry Trail’s gratuitous advice on campaigning
1. Who are the real decision makers?
For government lands and seas this is likely (but not always) to be the Minister and maybe Director General of the relevant department. This is absolutely the key question and sometimes you need to probe hard to find out, as the ‘machine’ will point to low-end bureaucrats as the decision makers, but they virtually never are. A polite and reasonable question to ask very directly anyone you deal with- ‘Do you have the power to give us the decision we want?’ If they waffle or equivocate when they answer, then they ain’t the decision maker. They may be an influencer, or more likely just someone you need to get information from on what is happening. And then ask ‘As its not you, who is the decision maker then?’ Occasionally this can produce surprising answers as to where the real power lies. For decisions on private lands there are usually two sets of decision makers- private land owners/developers and government regulators. Either can decide to give good environmental outcome though usually for very different reasons.
2. Who and what influences these decision makers?
For government decision makers- maybe its local MPs, maybe general public opinion, maybe their key advisers in their office, or a combination of all these. For companies- maybe public pressure, maybe personal friends. Maybe simply risk to their investment. And remember- decision makers are people, usually busy people, with usual range of human foibles and biases. It will be rare that they assimilate or process information like you do. Try to find out how they think, what might cut through best with them in arguments. Usually it’s a mixture of some technical arguments, and (most effectively) political arguments. ie why making the wrong decision will be politically bad for them.
3. Work out a clear and simple public ask and have it written down and agreed to by the key leaders in your team.
When you do media and public events and lobbying of any type- simply repeat the ask. Don’t change it without a very careful and considered process with your whole leadership team. Flopping around with asks confuses everyone. Changing ask without carefully considering it (ie agreeing in a meeting to a weaker ask without consulting the team) can immediately split a campaign team.
4. Have a clear and simple and powerful public message. Work up on paper a very simple 3 part message for media and public. Remember that for general public most people who hear you on radio/paper/even in a public meeting, will know little or nothing of the issue. Assume you are talking to someone who knows nothing at all…. Devise a 3 part message: 1. Issue 2. Problem 3. Solution.
eg. something like
Issue: Bushland on Steve Irwin Way near Landsborough is a very special forest- it has rainforest and many threatened species.
Problem: But the Department of Roads wants to expand the Bruce Highway and destroy part of it. This would cause an appalling loss of wildlife.
Solution: There are alternatives of building the road into land that is already cleared. Roads Minister xxx needs to change the plans to stop the bush being bulldozed. It would be terrible for the late Steve Irwin’s legacy to be a pile of bulldozed rainforest.
But if you don’t already have a very powerful message; something pithy and repetitive along the lines of this ideally. And just repeat it till you are sick of the message. Repetition will make it real for people who only occasionally hear the message.
5. Run both a public and an ‘insider’ campaign.
Most effective campaigns keep up public pressure (media, demos, public events, letter writing) along with direct and polite but forceful lobbying and discussions with decision makers and their advisers. The direct engagement with decision makers/advisers will provide information on how best to keep pressure up and what they are thinking.
6. Good intelligence is gold.
The more you can find out about decision makers and how they really operate the more effective you’ll be. Probe for and cultivate ‘mates’ on the other side who can quietly tell you what they are really thinking. Simple things like shouting someone a coffee or a meal and being nice can go far.
7. Pace yourself and key supporters.
Campaigns like this usually take years, not months! Consciously pacing yourselves and other leaders helps stop over-work and burn-out. A simple and under-used thing to do is to tell supporters it may take some time- but that by fighting we will win- as you did on motor-cross. So they can mentally pace themselves as well.
8. Have some fun.
Don’t feel obliged to work with supporters who are too personally taxing. It’s OK not to work with everyone who agrees with you on the issue. Build a positive team of people who have some fun together as well as do the hard yards of community campaigning. This will be attractive to majority of potential supporters and build more supporters and more power than a more dour and dogged approach.
9. Don’t waste time responding un-necessarily to government processes. Most bureaucratic public processes are designed to waste and diffuse community energy, taking you away from effective organising and keeping the pressure on. If you need to put in a submission to something (you may choose not to) keep it short and sweet and don’t flog yourself on details unless you know it may genuinely be powerful and effective for your campaign. In general the more you respond the more you may be losing, the more you are forcing them to respond- such as responding to your media or supporters letters- the more you are winning. If you are unsure of whether a process is worth engaging in- ask this question- will the decision maker definitely personally see the results of the process? Or will it just swill around at department level for people who have no power to give you want you want? If you aren’t sure bluntly ask process organiser who will see the results.
10. You’ll win unexpectedly.
Usually opposition forces – government and developers try to hide the fact that you are successfully putting pressure on them. This is a deliberate tactic to try to get you out of the road or to prematurely compromise. So don’t assume that if you are still being stone-walled in meetings and being told you are losing that this is really the case. Keep campaigning and rely on any intelligence to suss out what is really happening and what they are really thinking.
I have put this information together so that others can realize that achieving good environmental outcomes is possible.