Archive for March, 2011

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 3 in which we examine the life and tragically short career of Johnny Horizon.

He came from out of the West. He was a loner who brought the people together. With their help, he said, together they could clean up their towns and farms. “Do-gooder,” they called him. “Square-jawed,” they said. Troubadours traveled the countryside, singing about how a folk hero walked among them. Hearing his story changed the people’s lives. Rural folk and urban kids, hippies and businessmen, even the president—they all did as he asked. As his fame and power spread, the government grew nervous. Then one day the suits in Washington said they’d had enough. They’d created him, they could silence him. They ordered him “phased out.” To this day, he is still honored in the one state that loves its forest history characters more than any other. He was Johnny Horizon. And his legend lives on.

It was the late 1960s. The environmental movement was in full swing. Trash and water and air pollution had become major concerns for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Johnny Horizon arrived on the scene in 1968. His message was simple: It’s your land, it’s my land — Keep it clean! It was just what the BLM wanted to hear. They’d been the brunt of jokes for years, ridiculed as the Bureau of Livestock and Mining. The BLM needed help to clean up their image and clean up their lands. Johnny was the man for both.This Land is Your Land

Johnny had it all going for him. He was Hollywood handsome, “a tall, lean man with strong facial features, who wears slacks and sport shirt buttoned to the collar (both green, when colored), no tie, a field jacket (red, when colored), boot-type shoes (brown, when colored) and who carries a backpack.” His message was as disarming as his good looks: Clean up America for its 200th birthday. Who could argue with that?

At first the bureaucrats at the BLM were smitten. They hired the handsome stranger as their anti-litter symbol and spokesman. Johnny was an instant hit. A television appearance sparked 23,000 letters in one month from fans promising to reduce litter on public lands. Others signed pledge cards saying they’d do the same. He became bigger than anyone had ever imagined. Somewhere a talking bear was shaking in his blue jeans.

Johnny Horizon pledge card

Johnny Horizon pledge card.

Hollywood stars flocked to him right away like moths to a flame. Celebrities like Cicely Tyson and Glen Campbell recorded TV and radio spots for him. Johnny Carson’s sidekick Ed McMahon, British folk group The New Seekers, and baseball greats Bobby Mercer and Elston Howard also recorded announcements. Comics like Red Buttons and Carol Burnett joined in.

Folk singer and actor Burl Ives quickly teamed up with Johnny and the Department of the Interior to help spread his message. In a press conference in 1970, Ives promised to “get 200 million Americans aware of and caring for their environment.” Within a few years’ time, “countryside clean-ups” had spread to 40 states and 300,000 people were volunteering their time. Ives even commissioned songs to help spread the message. Together with singer Randy Sparks and the New Canaan Singers, he toured the country and gave free concerts—18 in all—while literally singing Johnny’s praises. And spreading his radical message that the people take care of their land.

Burl Ives Johnny Horizon LP

Johnny Horizon music LP featuring Burl Ives, Randy Sparks, and others.

One song invoked the names of the Founding Fathers and made a direct appeal to “the rangers and the Wolf Cubs and the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts” … “to help keep America clean.” Johnny was winning the hearts and minds of the kids. They could get free bumper stickers and buttons with Johnny’s message. They could buy t-shirts and watches and belts with his face on it. He even showed up on the popular kids’ cartoon “Fat Albert.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

If you’re a member of the Forest History Society, the latest issue of Forest History Today will be hitting your mailbox this week. If you join now, you can still get this highly sought-after, limited print edition of the magazine. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait awhile to read it online. After all, membership has its privileges.

As always, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. We have some biography: our first article is on forest researcher and lovable crank and socialist, Raphael Zon; the “Biographical Portrait” is of Estella Leopold, a research scientist whose work has helped preserve many different landscapes and regions around the world. We have some history of plants in isolated landscapes: there’s a look at the endangered conifer species Fitzroya cupressoides, found in Chile and Argentina; another article looks at a thriving species, the rough-stemmed goldenrod, and why it’s found in higher elevations of the Catskills; and a third looks at efforts to restore the Seeley Lake larch, which is found around Seeley Lake, Montana.

Are you a fan of industrial art? In this issue, we define it two different ways: there’s the art of making wood charcoal at the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (documented in “History on the Road”), and there’s the art of photographing industrial tools that we’re exhibiting here in what I’m calling a “handheld-photography exhibit.” The photos are by Kenneth S. Brown and can be found in our online photo collection.

For those interested in U.S. Forest Service history, we’ve got you covered: there’s a history of Company 3670, an African-American company in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Missouri; and we’ve published “CSI: Madison”—to date our most popular blog post—to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the agency’s Forest Products Lab. It includes photos not included in the original blog post.

Finally, I’ve also penned an appreciation of William “Bud” Moore, an outstanding conservationist in the vein of Aldo Leopold and a highly entertaining teacher and storyteller. I had the privilege of spending several days with him in 2010, so I wanted to offer some thoughts on Bud and his legacy. Bud devoted the first half of his life to working in fire management for the Forest Service and dedicated the second half to working out and sharing with visitors and readers his own land ethic on his private forest in Montana. Like Aldo Leopold, he leaves behind land he lovingly restored that we can visit as well as a moving and personal meditation about that land that can guide and inspire us. His inscription in my copy of The Lochsa Story says, “Stay close to nature.” Wise words from a sage man.

Read Full Post »

Weeks Act 1911March 1, 2011, marks the centennial of the Weeks Act—the “organic act” of the eastern national forests. The law has been one of the most successful pieces of conservation legislation in U.S. history. The Weeks Act permitted the federal government to purchase private land in order to protect the headwaters of rivers and watersheds in the eastern United States and funded fire protection efforts through federal, state, and private cooperation. Its passage made possible the creation of the eastern national forests, with nearly 20 million acres of forestland having been protected under the Act to date. As one historian has noted, “No single law has been more important in the return of the forests to the eastern United States” than the Weeks Act.

The Forest History Society staff has revised and expanded the Weeks Act pages within the U.S. Forest Service History section of our website. This new and improved section may be found at www.WeeksAct.org. Our Weeks Act history pages feature four separate sections and a huge collection of primary documents. You’ll also find a Weeks Act history video, taken from the DVD extras of the film The Greatest Good, that explains how the law came about.

Staff historian Jamie Lewis has been very busy this week promoting the centennial. He appeared on NPR stations in both North Carolina and New Hampshire. In North Carolina, WUNC interviewed him for the report “Forestry Law Created in NC Turns 100,” and today he appeared on New Hampshire Public Radio’s program “The Exchange” as a call-in guest. Guest Dave Govatski, secretary of the Weeks Act Centennial Coordinating Committee and coauthor of a book on the Eastern National Forests which the Weeks Act helped to create, gave a nice plug for the Forest History Society and its online resources as well. Jamie was also one of several historians interviewed by NHPR for a series of short reports on the national impact of the Weeks Act. You can find all that New Hampshire Public Radio is doing on the Weeks Act at: http://www.nhpr.org/special/weeksact.

This weekend Jamie will have an opinion piece published in the Raleigh News and Observer and one on March 27 in the Asheville Citizen-Times focusing on North Carolina’s role in the passage of the Weeks Act. Along with Steve Anderson, Jamie was also interviewed for a 3-part series in the Asheville Citizen-Times on the law and its impact on western North Carolina, slated to appear beginning March 6.

We encourage you to share the news with others to help remind them of the importance of the Weeks Act and to celebrate the centennial of the eastern national forests. Feel free to share with us how you plan on celebrating the Weeks Act in 2011: Are you throwing a party, spending time in a forest, or reading Bob Healy’s ongoing blog series reflecting on the act? Or all three, maybe even at the same time?

Read Full Post »