Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2012

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 with Part 7, in which we examine Spunky Squirrel.

Spunky SquirrelJanuary 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day. While I hold dear to my cartoon-loving heart Secret Squirrel (and his sidekick Morocco Mole), and enjoy the music of Squirrel Nut Zipper, there is one squirrel who stands above the rest—Spunky Squirrel. And I more than appreciate him. I want to celebrate him as he approaches his thirtieth birthday.

Spunky was the brainchild of the American Forestry Association (now American Forests) in 1981. They wanted a symbol for their Urban Forestry Program that would appeal to children. Wisely, they turned to artist Rudy Wendelin for help in developing the character. Rudy had been the primary artist for Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl before retiring from the U.S. Forest Service in 1973. When Hank DeBruin of the AFA contacted Rudy in September 1981 about creating Spunky, he offered Rudy some ideas about Spunky’s apparel, which you can see in the letter below. But dressing him in blue jeans, a t-shirt, running shoes, and a cap that looks like a beret might have made him look more like a confused Frenchman than a hip American youth. (Props to Hank for suggesting Adidas running shoes, though. He anticipated by four years rap group Run-D.M.C. making Adidas popular among urban youth. Maybe Run took a fashion cue from Spunky.)

1981 letter from DeBruin to Wendlin

1981 letter from Hank DeBruin to Rudy Wendlin

Rudy’s initial try, though, garnered some ribbing from Hank. “Grandpa Squirrel” was not what they were after.

Grandpa Squirrel

Grandpa Squirrel test art.

In August 1982, AFA introduced Spunky and his slogan “Care for Trees!” to its members in the magazine. The ad copy is written by Spunky and gives his backstory—how he was born uptown and lived in an oak tree in a park. But when the tree got sick and had to be removed, he and his family had trouble finding another tree to call their own. The ad then goes on to extol the many benefits of urban forests.

That October, Spunky made his first public appearance at the second National Urban Forestry Conference, which was sponsored in part by the AFA, in Cincinnati. Spunky was there to hand out tree seedlings to kids, who “thronged” him as he made his way from the stage to greet them. Soon after his introduction, Spunky became the de facto mascot of Arbor Day. At Milwaukee’s Arbor Day event in 1983, he was made an honorary citizen!

Raymond Burr and Spunky Squirrel

Actor Raymond Burr with Spunky at the 1982 National Urban Forestry Conference in Cincinnati. The actor had a long-time interest in natural resources issues.

Spunky’s popularity quickly took off, especially after he was introduced to kindergarten, first and second graders in Weekly Reader. He also made an appearance on TV’s “Romper Room,” where he told children all over America how to improve the environment in their cities and towns. The usual merchandise followed—Spunky Squirrel t-shirts, balloons, flying disks,  buttons—even Spunky Squirrel bike packs and plastic tumblers.

Spunky Squirrel promotional items

Spunky Squirrel promotional items

Part of his message included telling people how they could protect their trees from the gypsy moth, which continues to wreak havoc on eastern hardwoods. He graced the pages of a workbook about the gypsy moth published by the AFA and the U.S. Forest Service. Rudy even created a gypsy moth character. The AFA made ads for gypsy moth information featuring Spunky available to newspapers in affected areas, probably for free.

Gypsy Moth

Gypsy Moth, one of the villains in the Spunky Squirrel rogues' gallery.

It’s not known how long Spunky remained in the public eye—perhaps just a couple of years. Like so many forest characters, Spunky soon found work hard to come by, and was reduced to making appearances in odd places, like at a city function in Santa Rosa, California, in 2006. We can’t confirm it, but it looks like he’s had some plastic surgery done. (The things an older squirrel must do today to compete against younger squirrels for spokes-animal work. Spunky’s barely recognizable.)

Santa Rosa's Spunky Squirrel, circa 2006.

In Oklahoma, though, his name and slogan “Care for Trees!” live on in an annual poster contest. And he’ll always live on in our hearts.

Spunky Squirrel in Milwaukee

Spunky at the 1984 Arbor Day celebration in Milwaukee.

Read Full Post »

On this date in 1887, author, forester, ecologist, and conservationist Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa. The founder of the science of wildlife management and a major influence on the wilderness movement, wildlife preservation, and environmental ethics, he is perhaps best known for his book, A Sand County Almanac (1949). In honor of his birthday, we’ve asked filmmaker Steve Dunsky to share his thoughts about the subject of his latest documentary film.

As one of the filmmakers of Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and A Land Ethic for Our Time, I was asked for my reflections on the occasion of Aldo Leopold’s birthday. January 11, 2012, marks the 125th anniversary of his birth. When he died suddenly in 1948, he was only 61 years old. He has been dead now for more years than he was alive.

A film about a person who died more than six decades ago runs the risk of being irrelevant. Particularly if that person is a conservationist and scientist; our planet, and our understanding of it, have changed so dramatically in the past half century. But Leopold’s ideas are so enduring, so far ahead of his time, that we find his story resonates with audiences across the United States, and in the seventeen other countries where the film has screened to date.

Green Fire posterGreen Fire has clearly struck a chord. More than 1,000 people turned up to the world premiere last February. Since then, screenings, both large and small, have been held in libraries, schools, nature centers, and independent theaters. We have seen audiences of 600 on college campuses, despite a distribution and marketing effort that is purely a grass roots effort and by word-of-mouth.

Making Leopold’s story relevant today was a major focus of our film team. My wife Ann and I, along with our Forest Service colleague Dave Steinke, directed and produced the film. With our partners the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Center for Humans and Nature, we set out to tell both the story of Leopold’s life and his contemporary legacy.

Leopold biographer Curt Meine, the film’s narrator/guide, weaves together Leopold’s biography with the stories of people who are living Leopold’s land ethic today—from ranchers in New Mexico to environmental educators in Chicago. As the voice of Leopold, narrator Peter Coyote brings Leopold’s wonderful language to life.

In the film, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco says that Leopold’s land ethic (she calls it an “Earth ethic”) is more relevant today than it has ever been. As I write this, I am attending the Waimea Ocean Film Festival in Hawaii, where Green Fire has screened four times. It is so easy to make the connection to oceans because the land ethic is a universal concept.

Leopold’s legacy also includes the cutting-edge conservation disciplines of today: protecting biodiversity, restoring damaged ecosystems, growing healthy local food. Leopold’s concept of land health speaks directly to current notions of healthy ecosystems and their connection to healthy communities. Everyone gets it.

Aldo Leopold and "Flip" on the Apache National Forest in Arizona, 1911. (FHS4408)

One of the questions we often hear following our screenings is: What did you learn about Leopold during the making of this film?
(more…)

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers