VALLEJO, CA: Environmentalists and members of Congress are criticizing the US Forest Service for hiring a PR agency to help promote its controversial logging plan for the Sierra Nevada.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that OneWorld Communications encouraged the Forest Service to keep details of the plan confidential because "members of the public who
are not professionals in PR and marketing might misinterpret certain ideas or concepts." OneWorld also helped develop messaging and slogans.
The proposed plan calls for tripling the number of trees that would be open for harvesting in the Sierra Nevada to allegedly reduce the risk of wildfires. Environmentalists, already opposed to increasing the logging, accused the Forest Service of hiring "spin doctors" in order to mislead the public.
Two House Democrats also criticized the $90,000 contract with OneWorld, calling it a misuse of taxpayers' money.
"We're not being defensive about this in the least," said Matt Mathis, the Forest Service regional press officer . "We had a very important message to get out to the public."
"We feel so strongly about the potential catastrophic effects of fires on the communities and wildlife in the Sierra Nevada that we did indeed hire a contractor to help us create greater public awareness of the need to reduce fuels," wrote Jack Blackwell, Pacific Southwest regional forester for the Forest Service, in a Chronicle letter to the editor. "We felt that the need is so urgent that it was our responsibility to increase the clarity and understandability of this message."
Mathis said the forest service can be a bit bureaucratic, so it sought help crafting messages that the public would be able to understand, adding that this was the first time the service had hired a PR firm to develop messaging and strategy.
OneWorld President Jonathan Villet said his firm works with several government bureaus, and that the whole point of being hired was to help the Forest Service communicate a complicated plan to the public.