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Posts Tagged ‘tree farm’

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 12, in which we examine Benny Beaver.

Although Benny Beaver is back in the news, don’t be confused. The one making news is Oregon State University’s mascot, and that’s because he’s been redesigned. Again. The Benny Beaver beloved by forest history buffs was the mascot for the Redwood Region Conservation Council (RRCC).

Benny BeaverThe RRCC was a forest products industry group in the Redwood-Douglas fir region of California that sought to inform the public about the necessity of conserving the area’s natural resources, in particular commercial timber, and the importance of doing so for the benefit of all. The RRCC was involved in certifying forests for the American Tree Farm System and already employed Woody and the Keep Green program to get the word out about fire prevention when Benny was introduced.

What makes this character stand apart from all those is that his creators went to the trouble of formulating a backstory for him. Benny was introduced in the summer of 1965 (we don’t know when they stopped using him). In the introduction below, besides learning about Benny’s extended family and ancestors, they even implied that he was OSU’s Benny Beaver—hence the reference to being mauled by a wolverine (in 1965′s Rose Bowl, the University of Michigan handily defeated OSU.) And when Benny was introduced, Bernard Z. Agrons was RRCC’s president, so we think that’s where the name of Benny’s great uncle came from. Anyway, his creators did such an entertaining job on the backstory that I’m going to let the announcement of Benny’s “hiring” do the talking.

Benjamin “Benny” Beaver—faller, bucker, dam-builder and member of the world-famed lumbering family—has joined the Redwood Region Conservation Council as its supervisor of forest activities.

Benny applied to RRCC headquarters for work following a six-month period of convalescence.

Last January 1 while inspecting the culinary qualities of the wood structures which support Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, he was seriously mauled by a curmudgeonly wolverine. Seems the wolverine had left his home in Michigan for a trip to Disneyland and had stopped off in Pasadena for some mild exercise. A beaver with a football was all he could find to tussle with.

Healed, Benny headed back to his familiar forest where, he says, the most dangerous creatures are 21-year-old loggers on Saturday night and a funny old bear who wears a silly hat.

Benny’s first assignment will be to work with that bear—Smokey they call him—in an effort to keep the Redwood Region green. But being a charter member of the “hard-hat-on-head, we’re-not-dead” club, Benny indicated he would try to talk Smokey out of wearing his felt campaign hat.

“Widow-makers,” he warned, “can drive you into the deck like a wicket.”

Well known as an industrious woods worker, Benny has numerous qualifications for his job in forest conservation.

His great-great-great granddaddy pioneered the technique of selective logging, and early lumberjacks copied Benny’s great uncle Bernard Z. Beaver’s method of getting logs from the forest to the mill by river floating.

As a matter of fact, Benny’s cousins still excavate canals—some several hundred feet long—to float wood for life’s necessities into their communities. Their dams are engineered perfectly to keep the water in the canals at a proper depth….

The announcement concluded: “RRCC hopes the Redwood Region will welcome Benny Beaver. We expect him to fight wildfire, prevent litter-bugging and help us tell the public that conservation means the wise and multiple use of our natural resources.”

That last statement reveals the stumbling block to success that so many forest history characters trip over: they are given too many things to simultaneously to represent and it confuses the target audience. Is Benny about fire prevention? Stopping litter bugs? Wise and multiple use? Aren’t the first two really just part of the third? This problem of a muddled message is why the Forest Service later created Woodsy Owl—people were trying to use Smokey Bear to talk about litter and other issues and it diluted the power of Smokey’s message. Further complicating Benny’s path to stardom was the introduction of Cal Green and Sniff and Snuff in California the same year Benny was introduced. How’s a beaver in cut-off overalls supposed to compete against charismatic Cal and the sartorial splendor of Sniff and Snuff? As Benny might say, dam if I know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead featuring Benny Beaver.

RRCC Benny Beaver poster

RRCC vice president Norman Traverso with student poster contest winners, 1966.

RRCC bookmark.

RRCC promotional bookmark featuring the “Woody” character.

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Recently processed with the help of graduate student intern Shaun Trujillo, the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) Collection is now open to researchers. The tree farm movement began in June of 1941 with the dedication of the Clemons Tree Farm in Washington. Since then, the American Tree Farm System’s membership and focus have moved from one dominated by industrial forests to that of family-owned forests. Its history reflects the broader history of private forest ownership as well as the history of public-private cooperative forestry.

The records of the American Tree Farm System document the important history of tree farming in the U.S. The collection includes organizational records, press clippings, correspondence, inspection and certification records, publications, records of awards and conventions, and numerous photographs and slides of ATFS events and activities, as well as films of educational programming and public service announcements by famous tree farmers such as Andy Griffith. A complete inventory of the ATFS Collection is now available online.

Researchers interested in the ATFS will also want to explore related collections at FHS such as the records of the American Forest Institute and the National Forest Products Association. For more background information and access to additional historic documents on tree farming in the U.S., visit our new ATFS history page: www.foresthistory.org/ATFS.

Below you will find a few highlights from the American Tree Farm System Collection.

Smokey Bear and tree farmers

Smokey Bear making an appearance at a tree farmer certification ceremony.

1942 tree farm letter

1942 letter discussing the emerging tree farm standards.

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On June 12, 1941, the nation’s first Tree Farm was dedicated. The 120,000-acre Clemons Tree Farm in Washington, owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, received that designation with great fanfare—Washington Governor Arthur Langlie and other dignitaries were on hand for the ceremony. From that one property in the Pacific Northwest has grown a movement that now is international in scale. As the American Tree Farm System® (ATFS) celebrates its 70th anniversary, there are more than 88,000 private landowners sustainably managing 26 million acres.

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Prior to 1940, most commercial-grade timber came from industry-owned lands. While fire was a concern on all forest lands, the Weyerhaeuser Company took an active interest in changing public attitude about fire prevention because of fire’s impact on the company’s holdings. Heavy use by hunters, fishermen, berry pickers, and vacationers posed a fire hazard to reforestation efforts on their tract in Grays Harbor County and elsewhere. By the summer of 1941, Weyerhaeuser had built an infrastructure of lookout towers, telephone lines, and roads to make fighting fires easier. Then to impress upon the locals the need for preventing fires, the company invited the public to tour the forest they now called a Tree Farm. It was leadership by example, something the ATFS has been doing ever since.

Clemons Tree Farm map

Clemons Tree Farm map, 1940 (click to enlarge)

The Weyerhaeuser company came up with the term “tree farm” because, it was argued, “everyone knew that a farm was for growing repeated crops of agricultural products” and what they were doing was growing repeated tree crops. The plan for unveiling the Tree Farm concept included naming the farm for an area figure—pioneer logger Charles H. Clemons—and holding a public dedication ceremony. About 500 people packed the Montesano Theatre for the ceremonies. In his address, Governor Langlie told the throng, “The Clemons Tree Farm may form the experimental basis that may mean a great deal to the entire state. It may set the pace for millions of acres of such lands throughout the state.” Little did he know that it would set the pace for millions of acres throughout the nation as the American Tree Farm System.

You can learn more about the history of the ATFS from this 70th anniversary article in the organization’s magazine, Tree Farmer. This 1949 article from Agricultural History provides an excellent examination of the founding and early struggles of the organization. And you can learn more about our archival holdings and follow a link to historical photos of the ATFS from this blog post by FHS archivist intern Shaun Trujillo.

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In June of 1951, another crowd gathered in in Montesano, Washington, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Clemons Tree Farm. A plaque was unveiled commemorating the 1941 founding, and in attendance were William B. Greeley, Wilson Compton, J.P. Weyerhaeuser Jr., and Mrs. Charles H. Clemons. At the time of the ceremony, over 4 million Douglas-fir seedlings had been planted on Clemons Tree Farm land. By the end of the tenth anniversary year, the American Tree Farm System had already spread to 33 states.

FHS4694

From left: Wilson Compton, Mrs. Clemons, J.P. Weyerhaeuser Jr., and W.B. Greeley commemorate the 10th anniversary of Clemons Tree Farm.

By the time of the 25th anniversary in 1966, every state other than Alaska and Hawaii had officially joined the American Tree Farm System. Promotional “Silver Anniversary Dollars” were produced to commemorate the occasion.

Tree Farm dollar

Tree Farm Silver Anniversary Dollar.

The 40th anniversary of the American Tree Farm System was held in North Carolina on June 12, 1981. Participating in the festivities was actor and celebrity tree farmer Andy Griffith. Every state now featured a tree farm, with Alaska and Hawaii having joined the ATFS in 1974 and 1975, respectively. By the end of 1981, more than 40,000 tree farms managed a total land area exceeding 80 million acres.

Tree Farm System 40th Anniversary

From left: North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, George H. Weyerhaeuser, Andy Griffith, and T.O. Perry at ATFS 40th anniversary.

The Tree Farm System began the 1990s with more than 70,000 tree farmers managing some 93 million acres. The 50th anniversary in 1991 (“50 Years of Growing Trees . . . And More Than Trees”) featured a new round of commemorative promotional items, such as trucker hats.

Tree Farm 50th Hat

Tree Farm System 50th Anniversary hat

The 60th anniversary also marked a full 25 years of the Outstanding Tree Farmer Award. This award, begun in 1976, honored tree farmers who have shown an outstanding commitment to sustainable forest management.

Tree Farm 60th anniversary logo

Clemons Tree Farm sign

Simple signs like this marked the entrances to the first tree farm. Today the familiar green and white diamond logo identify properties in the American Tree Farm System and their purpose: sustainable management of forests for wood, water, recreation, and wildlife.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, AFTS decided to focus exclusively on family forest owners—who, notably, own more forest land in America than industry owners. New certification standards focus on the needs of woodland owners managing smaller woodlands. ATFS now provides tools and on-the-ground support to 88,000 family forest owners sustainably managing 26 million acres. The program is still going strong as it moves towards its eighth decade. In August, the 2011 Tree Farmer Convention will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. FHS Historian Jamie Lewis and Archivist Eben Lehman will be on hand to make a presentation about the history of ATFS and the ATFS records housed by the Forest History Society and to exhibit our publications.

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A Kiss for Trees

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Gifford Pinchot famously wrote in Breaking New Ground, “Forestry is Tree Farming. Forestry is handling trees so that one crop follows another. To grow trees as a crop is Forestry.”

While next June marks the official 70th anniversary of the first certified tree farm, the concept of renewable forestry can be traced back to the turn of the last century. The rise of the tree farm movement in America marked a shift in perspective towards privately owned forest land as a sustainable resource worthy of long-term conservation and management. Private landowners became important figures, working on behalf of the public’s interest as the stewards of this valuable resource.

Tree Farm button

Promotional button commemorating 40 years of the Tree Farm System.

The Forest History Society Library and Archives recently received 24 cartons of archival documents from the American Tree Farm System (ATFS). Currently being processed, the collection includes historical material such as essays from the 1940s and 1950s attempting to define the burgeoning movement, inspection and certification records of some of the first tree farms, and early press clippings. The majority of the collection’s documents cover the organization’s activities from 1980 to 2005, and include publications such as Tree Farmer Magazine and Green America, records of various awards for outstanding forestry such as the Tree Farmer of the Year and Inspector of the Year, minutes and related materials from annual conventions and committees, records from educational initiatives such as Project Learning Tree, and materials from dedications  such as the certification of President Jimmy Carter’s tree farm. The collection also includes numerous photos and slides of ATFS events and activities, as well as films of educational programming, and public service announcements by famous tree farmers such as actress Andie MacDowell, musician Chuck Leavell, President Carter, and the incomparable Andy Griffith.

The Clemons Tree Farm, a 120,000-acre plot in Washington State publicly dedicated by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company on June 12, 1941, is recognized as the first official tree farm. The tree farm movement originated as an initiative of industrial firms such as Weyerhaeuser managing large tracts of forestland to demonstrate self-regulation and sustainability. Over the years the ATFS has grown to include smaller private landowners, with the system currently estimated at 24 million acres of certified forestland managed by over 90,000 tree farmers.

One of the videos included in the collection is a 4-minute public service announcement, produced by the Weyerhaeuser Company in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Clemons Tree Farm, that gives a general overview of the history and mission of the American Tree Farm System:

Pictured below are a few other items of interest from the collection:

Tree Farm certificate

An official certificate of membership to the American Tree Farm System. (click to enlarge)

Tree Farm Map

A Weyerhaeuser advertisement depicting a map of the 100-year plan for the Mount St. Helens Tree Farm, circa 1950. (click to enlarge)

Tree Farm baseball bat

A Louisville Slugger baseball bat custom made with the Tree Farm logo to commemorate the Domino’s Lodge Tree Farm dedication on March 19, 1988. (click to enlarge)

Tree Farm inspection document

An official inspection document of the original Clemons Tree Farm in Montesano, Washington, 1943. (click to enlarge)

For more information about the history of the American Tree Farm System you can view an article by Richard Lewis entitled “Tree Farming: A Voluntary Conservation Program,” from the July 1981 issue of the Journal of Forest History.

For a visual history, also see the following online galleries from the FHS Photo Collection:

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We’ve asked Jim Mackovjak, author of the forthcoming FHS book, Tongass Timber: A History of Logging and Timber Utilization in Southeast Alaska, 1804-1960, to share his thoughts on his recent cross-country bike trip and his time here in Durham. Around our office he has earned the nickname “Lawrence of Alaska” for his ride through the American desert.


When I left San Diego on my bicycle trip across the country two months ago, I envisioned evenings spent camped behind roadside billboards and nourishing meals of road-killed animal parts that, cooked over an open fire, would invariably taste like chicken. Not really. But though I had done little planning, I knew which way to go: head into the morning sun and keep Mexico on my right. Despite the facts that I had not trained at all and my equipment was very basic (though sound), some 50 gallons of Gatorade and five and a half weeks later I arrived safely in St. Augustine, Florida, none the worse for wear.

The hot, southern tier of the United States is not my customary environ. I hail from the small town of Gustavus, in southeast Alaska, where I have resided for forty years. Southeast Alaska’s climate is a bit harsh, but it is truly a region of great natural abundance, both terrestrial and marine, and offers a stark contrast to the three deserts I crossed. The bicycle ride was a lark, something I had wanted to do since I was a teenager, but work and family responsibilities had always prevented. These days, I do contract writing and my wife teaches school, and our three children are grown and off pretty much on their own. I made time for the trip.

Some of the stretches through the deserts were long, hot, and lonely, and, in my own small way, at the end of a day’s riding I felt like Lawrence of Arabia emerging from the desert on a bicycle. The first real trees I saw along the route, a juniper-like species in the hill country of Texas that reached a size that would at least provide a modicum of shade, were a welcome sight. I relished the increasing amounts of greenery as I journeyed east. I understand the importance of the pineries of the southeastern states to our nation’s wood supply, and the plantation forests, with their neat rows of evenly-spaced trees, were of great interest to me. But constantly feeling the need to push east, I never made a serious effort to learn more about them firsthand. I nevertheless enjoyed the shade they provided.

Jim Mack traveling in Texas. Trees took on a new significance to him as he biked across the country.

Jim Mack traveling in Texas. Trees took on a new significance to this "Lawrence of Alaska" as he biked through three deserts.

One question that I often asked myself while pedaling along was: What am I learning? I’m still not sure what the answer is, other than the fact that I had the strength and stamina to complete the trip.

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