Each person who expresses an opinion in a poll.
NATURE OF GROUP: People assumed to hold the same opinion.


Date: Report Filed April 15, 2004
Field Investigator: Annette DeMay
Investigation Period: April 2000 – April 2004
Initial Data Collected: Sociometry Fair 2000
Findings Presented: Sociometry Fair 2004
Subject: People’s Interactions with Trees and Surveys

SociomeTREE Suyvey results

Your Opinion Counts

About 20 years ago, a friend told me that each person who expresses an opinion in a poll is assumed to represent at least 100 people with the same opinion.

Random(?) Surveys

About 10 years ago I was “randomly” chosen to answer a survey about peanut butter. Because I like the kind of peanut butter that is less commonly available—made only with peanuts, no hydrogenated shortening or sugar—I decided to respond. It was interesting; they didn’t really care much about what style of peanut butter I like best. They were trying to weigh customer concerns about new packaging ideas, plastic versus glass. They asked good questions that addressed environment (recycling), cost, safety, and appeal. Since then I’ve been “randomly” selected

To Cut or Not to Cut, That is the Question

During the 1990s, whether or not to cut the old growth forest in the northwestern United States was a hot and frequent topic in the news. It was polarized in the media and locally portrayed as a contest between lunatic tree-hugging liberals, who wanted to protect habitat for a little owl that no one really cares about, and conservatives who want to protect jobs. There were extremists on both sides but the “eco-terrorists” made more colorful news and were called more names.

By the late 1990s the situation was tense. Some lumberjack jobs had already been lost; more were on the chopping block. The “right” choice was made obvious on the nightly news—people need to put food on the table more than they need owls. But shock and horror! The eco-freaks won in the courts. Some timber companies pulled out of Oregon.

Later, the word leaked out (eventually into a day or two of national nightly news) that a couple of those timber companies had moved work to Canada where they were welcomed. They were clear cutting old-growth trees and selling the trunks by the shipload to Japan. I imagined those industrious Japanese making lovely furniture to be enjoyed for generations. Not so, the trees were being used to make paper. Yikes! Any young trash tree from a tree farm is suitable for paper. That’s where some of the old-growth trees from the Northwest had recently been headed.

In public discourse, the truth too often leaks out quietly and later, with very little attention given to it.

Job-Losin’ Lumberjack’s View

I met one of those laid-off lumberjacks and asked him what he thought. I figured, here’s a guy that can give tree-lovin me a realistic alternate view. He said, “It’s true there were fewer lumberjack jobs and I lost mine. But there were initially just as many jobs and they were better.”

Some of the smaller timber outfits hired lumberjacks to do selective harvesting. There’s research that shows it’s really more profitable. It’s just that clear cutting is a way to make a fast buck and the huge companies have huge equipment to do just that. They can’t get their huge and expensive equipment into the forest for selective cutting.

Other lumberjacks took a little training and went to work in the mills. They produced finished lumber, which sells for more money. This was better than slogging so hard in the woods to send more tree trunks out of the area.

As time passed, there were fewer mill jobs too. But, lo and behold, new employers moved into the area to take advantage of available labor in such beautiful areas. Some of the jacks became mechanics, doing safer work for more pay.

Responsible Mature Adult View

An acquaintance of mine from Oregon was railing against those flaming liberal eco-freaks who kept stopped the harvesting of some old-growth forest because of the spotted owl. “They’re so unrealistic! They care more about an owl than people’s livelihoods.”

So I asked, “How long do you think the old growth forests in the Northwest would have lasted if the eco-freaks hadn’t gotten their way?”

She replied, “2 years.”

I was nearly stunned into silence. I didn’t realize the total clearing would happen so fast. But I stated “You sound pretty certain?”

She said, “I’m sure, at the rate they were going, it definitely wouldn’t have lasted any longer.”
I then asked as blandly as I could, “Are you disappointed?”

“No,” she replied “I’m glad they didn’t cut down all those big old trees. Frankly, within 2 years they would have all been gone anyway.”

Some folks, who are morally or financially conservative (like my acquaintance); adhere to the conservative political party line, even when their own words seem to belie their standard phrases about the environment.

It’s sad that politics has polarized the care of and concern about our environment and about spiritual well-being too. Now in public speech, it’s as if these belong only to the extremes of two different political affiliations.

Serious Surveys

My state and federal congressmen (not women) have asked me to respond to telephone and mail-in surveys several times. Every time, the survey has been very biased. The outcome they desire is obvious. All choices are often just different ways to agree with the congressman’s view. Usually, there are no choices that really disagree with them. Sometimes a different choice phrased with a caveat so only an idiot would choose it. They just want to be able to say they surveyed thousands and are doing what the people want. They should hire the unbiased peanut butter survey crew, but don’t wait for it.

Several thousand acres of trees in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains burned about 5 years ago. The fire started at the edge of the Domelands Wilderness in mid-July. It was horrific. Cattle exploded, homes were burned, some people even cared that so many of the precious few trees in this arid country burned. Backpackers were blamed. After all, it was in the wilderness, where rabid environmentalists had arranged to forbid vehicular traffic. Backpackers were blamed and generally maligned on the front page of the paper. They not only have exclusive access but now they’re burning down the country that they keep ordinary folks from using.

I’ve been backpacking in the Domelands the last week of May five different years. It’s already very warm in there. Only one of those years was there any water in the ephemeral creeks. They’d already gone dry after the spring run-off. So, I claimed there were no elitist backpackers in the Domelands in mid-July, when it’s about 120 degrees and water in only 2 distantly separated places. Some folks called me names. Others were quietly skeptical. Those who shared my opinion were publicly silent. A pro-environmental attitude is definitely politically incorrect around here.

Several weeks later, there was a tiny paragraph on page 4 of the Daily Independent. The fire investigation revealed that the Manter Fire was started as a controlled burn. Of course, the investigators must have known this from day one.

Politicians Respond with Important Survey

A few months after the ash settled, our congressman’s office phoned with an urgent survey. A vote would be taken soon. He needed to know what his people wanted. I was asked 3 multiple choice questions that didn’t offer any choice. Here’s an example question that will give you the flavor.

1. Regarding provisions of the clean air act that are up for renewal:
a. Should we repeal the clean air act because much air pollution has natural causes?
b. Should we reduce provisions of the clean air act because it raises the cost of doing business in California which means it costs jobs?
c. Should we repeal the clean air act to reduce regulations that are part of the problem with big government?
d. Should we continue the clear air act if it means the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs?

After hearing 3 questions in this style, I asked “is there a Comments section in the survey? I want you to record that this survey offers no choice. The questions are contrived so you get only the answer you want. No question has a single “right answer” for me to choose.”

The survey technician said, “I know what you mean. There isn’t a Comments section. I don’t think they care.” But this is my job to call people.

It’s true that forest fire smoke causes terrible air pollution, yet its duration is shorter than a factory or power plant. The clean air act contains regulations to protect our health. The number of asthma sufferers is on the rise. Lung cancer is the leading cause of death by cancer in our country. How many jobs that create air pollution will be lost compared to the number created to ensure that air pollution is avoided? Is the portion of government that regulates health protecting measures more or less costly than the taxpayer burden for health care due to such pollution? What about the corporate burden for health-related disabilities? Perhaps it’s not too high, as so many disabled by pollution are served by Medicaid or Medicare.

Caught by Curiosity

I became curious about biased surveys and about real attitudes concerning the environment. Based on our local newspaper, I have the impression that fringe-element flaming liberals senselessly try to wall off the countryside so normal people cannot use it. I’ve heard many quiet conversations around town that contradict this attitude but they’re secretive. It’s a small town, why bring grief on yourself? When I go out of town, I sometimes see environmentally friendly mainstream news, not just in the letters to the editor.

So, I contrived the SociomeTree Survey. It makes statements of fact and of opinion and offers clearly alternative responses. It also was designed to lead the unwary and the somewhat scientifically informed down a garden path. (or is that a path in the woods?)

The information is offered in an order that prepares the reader to be more inclined to agree that trees are refreshing, energizing, AND CAN LITERALLY SHARE THEIR ENERGY. The percentage of respondents who have actually experienced this is much higher than I expected. I strongly suspect that, if simply asked out of the blue rather than in this survey, almost all folks would respond to statement 8 with answers c or d. What do you think? But here’s what was measured by the survey:

8. By hugging large trees, people can tap into the tremendous energy that trees draw from both earth and sky
a. I’ve experienced it! 23%
b. It’s worth a try 23%
c. I like trees but this is too much 39%
d. Another wild idea 18%

There is no obvious correlation between how folks answered the other questions/statements and how they answered number 8. You can have some fun looking for correlations in the results.

Another Tree Survey

A lot has happened to trees in southern California and Colorado since I started the survey at the Sociometry Fair 2000 in Denver and now that I’m reporting it at Sociometry Fair 2004 in Las Vegas. In southern California hundreds of thousands of acres of trees have burned down, more than 700,000 acres outside San Diego and near Rancho Cucamonga. It seems that about a quarter of Colorado burned.

When the San Diego and Colorado fires were raging, we heard that both were started by campers—some of those tree loving lunatics who obviously lack good judgment. Actually, people who go out to camp sites in order to start forest fires aren’t really campers, in my opinion. That was eventually made clear about the fire-fighter who started the Colorado fire. A brief comment was eventually made that investigators determined the California fires were set by arsonists, but that was fleetingly brief news.

The California fires were blamed on environmental elitists throughout the raging catastrophes. Skies were charcoal gray as far as eastern Arizona, where I had hoped to see the Valley of the Gods but could hardly see the other side of the road due to the smoke. The fires were frequently blamed on environmentalists even when the facts came out. The purported cause was that environmentalists prohibit thinning of forests, so there was lots of tinder for fires to really heat up. The facts are that

a. Environmentalists and ecologists have been encouraging THINNING (selective cutting) for decades, publicly since the first Earth Day at the end of the 60s.
b. Environmentalists have been against CLEAR CUTTING because it removes all trees from an area, often results in erosion, and the forest that grows back is precisely the kind that provides the tinder that can fuel a hot fire. This tinder consists of many small trees all about the same age, so crowded that none can grow big enough to withstand fire.
c. Logging corporations and our current U.S. president use the term THINNING to include CLEAR CUTTING forests, as written into proposed laws. Then they criticize environmentalists and “liberals” for being against thinning. This was successful in getting a federal law recently passed to “thin” forests, mostly by clear cutting.
d. I’m familiar with the nature of the ecosystems in the fire areas in southern California. There is shockingly little undergrowth compared with hardwood forests of the north and eastern continental U.S.
e. These forests contained more than 1/5 standing dead wood because of a bark beetle infestation that had been spreading faster than the normal rate due to several years of drought. Is this a better reason for fast and hot burning fires? Is it a better explanation for huge fires than environmentalists causing build-up of undergrowth, in forests that generally lacked undergrowth because the ground is rocky with poor soil?
f. For decades the Forest Service has used our tax dollars to build logging roads instead of for thinning the forests in ways that would better protect them from fire. These roads allow logging companies to get deeper into the forests for massive cuttings, at very little cost for the trees they remove.

Since the more recent big fires, laws were proposed to better manage the forests. We were surveyed just before the votes in our national Congress. It went something like this:

a. Should forests be thinned to eliminate fire hazards?
b. Should the Federal Government build roads into forests to reach areas for thinning to reduce the chance of forest fires?
c. Should forest thinning be prohibited even if it endangers homes and lives?
d. Should the proposed law that supports forest thinning be passed? (No mention was made that thinning would be defined to allow clear cutting in areas that are not in danger of fire from underbrush.)

Surveys Can Say Whatever You Want

Surveys can result in whatever conclusions the author wants. They don’t even have to be as blatantly obvious as my congressmen are being. This survey author wants to know what people really think. See the survey results in the pictorial summary “SociomeTree Survey Results—Final Incident Report.”


The extent of the pro-tree response to the collection of survey questions surprised me. It especially surprised me that my community was strongly among the pro-tree respondents. The public discourse in my community has defined environmentalists and tree lovers as wackos when polite words are being used.

About two-thirds of the surveys were filled out anonymously. However, where the respondents live is generally known.

The most frequently selected answer for each “question” was the same for the overall survey respondents as for my family members. Since about half the respondents were from my community, that finding was unexpected. My family holds its annual reunion in the woods, car camping, so I guessed we might be more strongly tree loving than the general population. There was only one question whose most chosen answer differed between my family (living around the country and beyond) and my community in the northern Mojave Desert. Question 4 offered that trees can communicate with each other via chemicals passing among their roots. The majority of my family and the overall survey respondents chose the most agreeable answer “Wow, ok.” The majority of respondents from my community chose “Hard to get rooted in this idea.”

I wonder if it’s the case that people who are willing to fill out a survey are predisposed toward the subject matter of the survey. However, I also think people who are strongly against a point of view desire to express their opposition, at least anonymously.

Pro or con answers to the SociomeTree Survey statements don’t correlate with particular answers to other questions. This implies that the attitudes covered by the survey don’t fit only certain subgroups of the population. Maybe tree lovers are one of the “silent majorities” in the U.S. and evidently in my community. Maybe it’s time to speak out more publicly. Or you could act out. One of the survey respondents commented “Trees are good. Plant one today.”

Tree exhaust (oxygen) is human fuel. Human exhaust (carbon dioxide) is tree fuel. We were meant for each other.

The SociomeTree Survey was done mostly for fun. We are happy to know that many people had fun just reading and taking the survey. We hope the survey brought you smiles, and that you pass them on.