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Project Learning Tree

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is a front group for the American Forest Foundation. On its website PLT states that it "uses the forest as a 'window' on the world to increase students' understanding of our environment; stimulate students' critical and creative thinking; develop students' ability to make informed decisions on environmental issues; and instill in students the commitment to take responsible action on behalf of the environment."[1] The group states that its target audiences span from "pre-school to grade 12."

Criticism

Critics point out that PLT omits any explanation of the difference between a tree farm and native forest; that PLT files to discuss the use of dioxin-based herbicides in “forest management,” and that PLT does not discuss the effects of clear-cutting on ecosystems or the “cut and run” practices of some timber corporations. PLT also omits discussion of the massive damage that has been caused by the likes of Georgia Pacific, Boise Cascade and other wood products and paper companies, and that PLT provides no lessons for children on how clearcutting has hurt salmon runs. Another criticism is that PLT does not examine the potential of hemp/kenaf and other wood substitutes for the manufacture of paper.

Critics also take exception to the fact that PLT partnered with the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group for the energy industry, to create an energy module? [2]

Information from PRWatch archives on PLT

Following is an excerpt of an article rom the PRWatch.org archives written in 2000 by John Borowski about PLT. Borowski at the time had been an environmental science teacher for 20 years. He first encountered the group while leading a tour of teachers through a wilderness area:

Project Learning Tree


Often, the very organizations that preach the gospel of environmental education are actually industry shills. They have earthy names but clandestine roots. The American Forest Foundation (AFF) has a list of co-sponsors, cooperators and partners that includes some of the most egregious despoilers of our forests: Sierra Pacific, friend of clear-cuts in California; Pacific Lumber, pillagers of the redwoods; MacMillian Bloedel; Williamette Industries; Boise Cascade. But the real story is found in one of AFF's core programs, called "Project Learning Tree" (PLT).

I first encountered PLT several summers ago when I was asked to lead a tour of teachers through Opal Creek, a wilderness area in the Williamatte National Forest. Opal Creek is perhaps the most intact, pristine low-elevation watershed in the Pacific Northwest. Ironically, it has been preserved thanks to the efforts of the very activists that organizations like PLT oppose.

At the time that I agreed to lead the tour, however, I knew nothing about PLT. I arrived early at our meeting place by the clear waters of the Santiam River, with its giant trees providing the backdrop on that sun-drenched day. I felt honored by the opportunity to hike with teachers from across the globe and discuss the old-growth forest that I had defended in a presentation before a US Senate committee.

Kathy McGlauflin, vice president of PLT, accompanied us on our sojourn. We walked two miles along some of Opal Creek's most spectacular riparian zones. Much to my surprise, McGlauflin spoke more like a timber booster than an environmental education expert. For every point I made about the destruction of national forests, McGlauflin revealed her true colors. It seemed inconceivable that the representative of a supposedly pro-forest organization could be so misinformed.

I explained that the native forests have been overcut and replanted, creating one-species tree farms instead of forest ecosystems. McGlauflin responded that this was my own personal opinion, not reality. She mistakenly told the group that hemlock and cedars were replanted in large numbers after clear-cutting. Amazingly, she even claimed that apple orchards could be considered forest ecosystems.

I later found out that PLT is an industry front group, backed by timber dollars. The organization's website and printed materials look like something produced by an environmental group. PLT boasts a network of 3,000 grassroots volunteers and more than 100 state coordinators. This grassroots veneer is shrewd greenwash, and unfortunately, it is working.

Formed in 1970, PLT works to promote paper products, logging and industrial management of our nation's forests. They offer this version of "environmental education" to students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade and claim to have reached more than 500,000 educators and 25 million students.

PLT's educational materials are damning enough. But, as the saying goes, if you want the truth, follow the money. The industries that bankroll PLT include some of the nation's most passionate clear-cutters.

The Project Learning Tree booth at the National Science Teachers Convention makes PLT appear to be a genuine environmental organization.[3]

Borowski has also written of the group: "Sitting in front of me I have 'Project Learning Tree' curriculum, which like an educational malignancy has spread falsehoods, half-truths and obfuscations about forest ecology in classrooms around the nation, now embraces working with the American Petroleum Institute on energy issues: rife with more corporate friendly "science" at the expense of substantive ecological truths. In their "energy module" (that is a laugh): there is no substantive discussion on climate change, acidification of the oceans or peak oil. For years, I have toiled to inform teachers that Project Learning Tree, funded by timber dollars and given cover by some so-called "green groups" is the poster child for the ultimate "guilty of the worst sin -- omission" curriculum I have ever thumbed through."[4]

Funding

Project Learning tree has accepted financial support from Koch Industries.[5]

Personnel

Project Learning Tree staff:[6]

American Forest Foundation staff:[6]

Education Operating Committee:

  • Jim Stark, Committee Co-Chair, Director of Environmental Education, Weyerhaeuser Company
  • Mary Tisdale, Division Chief, Environmental Education and Volunteers, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Washington, DC
  • Safiya Samman, Director, Conservation Education, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Washington, D.C.
  • Judy Braus, Vice President of Education, National Audubon Society, Washington, D.C.[7]

Supporters

Partners

Contact details

Web: http://www.plt.org

External links


References

  1. "Our Mission and Goals", accessed January 2008.
  2. John Borowski Corporate Curriculum: Teaching the 'Science of Death', Common Dreams, October 20, 2008
  3. John Borowski Targeting Children: Industry's Campaign to Redefine Environmental Education, PR Watch, Second Quarter 2000, Volume 7, No. 2
  4. John Borowski Corporate Curriculum: Teaching the 'Science of Death', Common Dreams, October 20, 2008
  5. Laura Downey, Executive Director, KACEE and National Office of Project Learning Tree Letter to the Editor regarding acceptance of support for Project Learning Tree, Discovery, the quarterly newsletter of Koch Industries, July, 2007, at PDF page 2
  6. 6.0 6.1 Staff, Project Learning Tree, accessed October 2010.
  7. Education Operating Committee, Project Learning Tree, accessed October 2010.
  8. Supporters, Project Learning Tree, accessed October 2010.
  9. Partners, Project Learning Tree, accessed October 2010.