Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues here with Part 2 in which we examine the Guberif.
“What the hell is a Guberif?”
Residents of Idaho began asking that question in 1950 when the Guberif first invaded their state’s forests. Rarely seen today, the Guberif is a creature that stalks the woods, leaving behind devastating forest fires in its wake. Commonly found throughout Idaho during the 1950s, the creature was mostly eradicated through a successful statewide “wanted dead or alive” hunting campaign. A sworn enemy of the forest, the infamous Guberif nonetheless developed a cult following, and still stands as one of the most unique characters in state history.
To fully understand the Guberif, we first need to go back to 1946, the year the Keep Idaho Green campaign was launched. The campaign was an extension of the Keep Green program that began in the state of Washington in 1940 to combat the growing number of catastrophic fires in the Pacific Northwest. The program quickly spread nationwide and other states began implementing their own forest fire prevention advertising campaigns under the Keep Green banner. By 1946 twelve states, including Idaho, had created their own official Keep Green organizations.
The driving force behind the creation of Keep Idaho Green was the Idaho State Junior Chamber of Commerce. Most of the Keep Idaho Green organization’s early executive committee members (composed of representatives from State, federal, and private interests) came from the Junior Chamber. Like other states with Keep Green programs, the Idaho organization designed and distributed educational materials such as posters, stickers, pamphlets, and displays boards, as well as short films and radio spots featuring messages of fire prevention.
Looking for a way to help differentiate their forest fire prevention campaign from that of other states, Keep Idaho Green invented a new character. First introduced in 1950, the “Guberif” was defined as a creature that starts fires in Idaho’s forests through acts of carelessness. The development of the character is credited to Richard A. Trzuskowski, who was publicity director for the Keep Idaho Green committee at the time.
Designed as an ugly winged insect, normally seen smoking a cigarette or pipe and sporting a clueless expression, the new Guberif character was plastered on posters and other items by the Keep Idaho Green organization during the next few years. In 1951 alone, more than 100,000 postcards featuring the Guberif were distributed in Idaho. In addition, 300 road surface signs bearing messages of fire prevention – and mentioning the Guberif – were painted on Idaho highways (some of which can still be found today in various parts of the state). A short film was even produced featuring the Guberif in a starring role.
Derived from a relatively simple concept – the word “firebug” spelled backward – the character produced immediate reactions. The Guberif was a name that people remembered, and the character sparked discussion throughout the state (sometimes beginning with “What the hell is a Guberif?”). From a marketing perspective the character can be viewed as a success, due to its impact and creativity. Thanks to the Guberif, fire prevention became a topic of conversation statewide. Alas, like other forgotten forest characters the Guberif eventually fell out of use. His legacy lives on in some quarters, though, and after decades in hibernation various campaigns are underway to bring the character back to life. Whether he ever returns or not, we here at Peeling Back the Bark pledge to keep the memory of the infamous Guberif alive. In tribute, here are a few selections from our archives documenting this unique yet forgotten character of forest history:
For more images of the Keep Idaho Green campaign, check out the following photo gallery: Keep Green Campaign — Idaho.