INDIVIDUAL: Each person who expresses an opinion in a poll.
GROUP SIZE: 100
NATURE OF GROUP: People assumed to hold the same opinion.
INCIDENCE OF SOCIOMETRY: SociomeTREE Survey
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.
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 frequently...hm-m-m.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.