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Posts Tagged ‘American Forestry Association’

On this date in 1949, four Forest Service smokejumpers made the first jump east of the Mississippi River and the first parachute jump ever made onto the Washington Ellipse, the oval park between the Washington Monument and the White House. The jump was even televised, which is how President Harry Truman reportedly watched it, even though he would’ve had a clear view of the historical event if he’d stepped out on the Executive Mansion’s balcony.

The smokejumpers had taken three days to fly out from their base in Missoula, Montana, on a Ford Tri-Motor. Why so long? The airplane’s top speed was 90 mph. Homer W. “Skip” Stratton later recalled 50 years later in an interview with The Missoulian, “If we got a head wind, we could see cars and trains passing us down below.” Of the jump, he remembered they came in so low they were about eye level with tourists looking out from the observation windows of the Washington Monument, which are 500 feet up: “We were waving at each other.”

DC Commissioner John Russell Young welcomes the smokejumpers to the nation’s capital. From left to right, Bill Hellman, Skip Stratton, Bill Dratz, and Ed Eggen. The White House is visible in the upper left corner. (American Forestry Association Photo Collection)

The first two men to hit the silk were Stratton, 27 years old, and William D. Dratz, 26. On a second pass, Edward J. Eggen, 26, and William D. “Bill” Hellman, 23, jumped and landed in the middle of the Ellipse. Hellman had become a new father while on the trip. His son was born the day before the DC jump.

With no forest fire to attack, smoke pots were lit to provide some sense of excitement for the smokejumpers and the hundreds of spectators who turned out to watch. The Washington Post reported the next day, “It wasn’t an invasion, citizens, it was the United States Forest Service demonstrating how its smoke-jumpers fight forest fires in remote sections of the West.” Interestingly, the day before this leap into history the newspaper characterized their job as putting out fires “inaccessible to automobiles,” a indication of how new the concept of smokejumping was.

The jump was arranged by the American Forestry Association (now American Forests), which was hosting a luncheon at the National Press Club “honoring American business for its advertising support in the fight against forest fires through a public service campaign sponsored by the Advertising Council,” according to an August 1949 article in American Forests magazine. The Forest Service hoped the event would generate continued support for its fire prevention campaign and the smokejumper program. After landing, dozens of reporters swarmed to take photos of them and ask questions. Stratton recalled, “The questions were just crazy. What does it feel like? Do you jump right into the middle of the flames? Crazy stuff.”

Then the four men got into two convertibles and rode down Pennsylvania Avenue to the luncheon, where the smokejumpers gave plaques to business leaders on behalf of the Agriculture Department. The men were a big hit in Washington, especially Eggen, the only bachelor of the group. “Ed was the favorite of the women at the Agriculture Department,” Stratton remembered. “He was this big handsome guy with blond hair and a great smile. They pretty much had him surrounded the whole time we were in Washington.” Afterward, they quickly returned to Missoula and to work. Fire season was well underway.

Bill Hellman presents a plaque to Charles E. Wilson, president of General Electric, at the Salute to American Business Program. Looking on is Forest Service chief Lyle Watts. (American Forestry Association Photo Collection)

Some readers might recognize the name of Bill Hellman. Just six weeks later, Hellman would be one of 12 jumpers killed in the Mann Gulch fire, another, though unwelcome, first for the Forest Service smokejumpers.

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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.

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Happy birthday to Dr. John Aston Warder, founder of the American Forestry Association, and influential figure in the development of American horticulture and forestry.

John Aston WarderOn this date in 1812, John Aston Warder was born near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The eldest son of Quakers Jeremiah and Ann Aston Warder, he developed a love of nature early in life, spending great amounts of time in the Pennsylvania woods near the family’s suburban home.

Warder attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, graduating in 1836 and establishing his medical practice in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Warder would practice medicine in Cincinnati for almost 20 years, while at the same time maintaining active interest in his pursuits related to the natural world.  He became involved with the Cincinnati Horticultural Society, the Cincinnati Society of Natural History, the Ohio Horticultural Society, the Ohio State Board of Agriculture, the Western Academy of Natural Sciences, and various other organizations.  Warder also helped draw public attention to gardening and landscape design, advocating for the beautification of parks and cemeteries.

Increasingly drawn to these outside pursuits, Warder gave up his medical practice in 1855 and moved to a rural home in North Bend, Ohio on land overlooking the Ohio River that was once part of the farm of President Benjamin Harrison.  There he practiced planting and gardening, and began a flurry of horticultural writings which were published over the next ten years.

During the 1860s Warder’s primary interest began to shift from horticulture to forestry.  His work in this area led to his 1873 appointment as United States Commissioner to the International Exhibition (World’s Fair) in Vienna, where he wrote the the official report on forests and forestry.  This report described the forestry exhibits of each country, presented detailed forest data, and made a great mass of European forestry knowledge available to Americans.

Warder was also one of the first people to propose planting protective belts of trees on the western plains of the U.S. to provide shelter from wind and protect the soil from erosion.  In his 1858 work Hedges and Evergreens, Warder wrote:

The barrenness of the great Western plains of our continent is said to depend more upon their aridity, and the constant evaporation caused by the winds that sweep over their surface, than upon any deficiency in the soil. It has been suggested, that the first step toward the settlement of such a country would be, to plant belts of trees of the hardiest drought-enduring kinds. . .

Warder would further develop these theories and continue to publish materials on the need for shelterbelts during the subsequent decades.

In 1875, Warder issued a call for persons interested in forest planting and conservation to meet in Chicago.  Those responding to this call met at the Grand Pacific Hotel on September 10, 1875, and there formed the American Forestry Association, with Warder selected as the group’s first president.  The organization was further established at the second meeting in Philadelphia on September 15, 1876, where Warder was reelected as president.  The formation of AFA proved to be a monumental moment in the history of forestry and conservation in this country, as it occurred prior to the existence of state and national forests, before forestry education programs in the U.S., and before the implementation of national forest policy.  AFA was able to facilitate the advance of American forest management and conservation into the 20th century.  Warder would remain as president until 1882, the year he helped merge AFA with the American Forestry Congress, further expanding the reach of the organization, which today is known as American Forests.

In  1883, Warder was chosen as Honorary President of the Ohio State Forestry Association.  That  same year he was also appointed agent of the Department of Agriculture to report on the Forestry of the Northwestern States.  While still actively contributing to the advancement of American forestry, Warder was unfortunately slowed by an illness during this time period.  Warder died on July 14, 1883 and was buried in Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery, a cemetery he himself had helped to design and landscape.

For more information relating to John Aston Warder, see the following collections from the FHS Archives:

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Bernhard Fernow

Bernhard Fernow (FHS Archives)

Happy birthday, Bernie! You helped bring forest management and forestry education to the United States and Canada, and we are forever grateful! Have an extra piece of cake on us!

Born in Prussia on January 7, 1851, Bernhard Eduard Fernow trained for both law and forestry. He served in the Prussian Forest Service for seven years and completed his forestry training at the Forest Academy at Muenden. But instead of taking over a family estate as expected, he traveled to the United States in 1876 to attend the American Forestry Association (AFA) meeting held in Philadelphia and to be reunited with his American-born fiancée. They married soon thereafter and he became a United States citizen.

The first trained forester in the United States, Fernow is a pivotal figure in forest and conservation history. For twelve years (1886–1898), he served as chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry, the predecessor to the U.S. Forest Service. He churned out top-notch reports, worked with legislators to pass the Forest Reserve Act (1891) and the Forest Management Act (1897), and put the lowly agency on a solid scientific footing. His work as the executive secretary of AFA (1883–1895) proved just as vital, moving that organization beyond its initial focus on planting trees to advocating for forest preservation and scientific management.

R.H. Campbell, Walter Potts, Mrs. Fernow, and Dr. Fernow on Bow River Forest, Alberta, 1915.

Left to right: R.H. Campbell, Walter Potts, Mrs. Fernow, and Dr. Fernow on Bow River Forest, Alberta, 1915 (FHS Archives).

Fernow can be considered the father of professional forestry education in North America. A long-time advocate for forestry schools in the U.S., in 1898 he left the U.S. Division of Forestry to establish the New York State College of Forestry at Cornell University, the first professional forestry school in the United States (meaning, the first school to offer a college degree). While there, he launched what would become the Journal of Forestry, the first professional forestry journal in the country. The governor shut the school down in 1903 after complaints from the wealthy neighbors of the school’s Adirondack experimental forest. It seems they could hear the sawmill running and didn’t want to be disturbed. In 1907, he founded the forestry program at Pennsylvania State College’s main campus, teaching forestry there in the spring of 1907 before heading to the University of Toronto and establishing Canada’s first forestry school, where he stayed until his retirement in 1920.

Moreover, Fernow represents the transition in forest conservation thinking from the post–Civil War conservationists to the Progressive conservationists, a transition from self-taught botanists and scientists to professionally trained foresters. He provided the first link from forestry’s German roots to its transplantation to the New World. Sympathetic to the moral arguments being made about preserving forests, he knew that conservation was really about economics and that forestry was about annual profits. He worked for the establishment of American forestry management with a singular purpose, but ultimately left to teach in Canada with his reputation in tatters and his endeavors largely unappreciated. He was widely praised after his death in 1923, but then began receding in historical relevance.

That he has received so little recognition for his role in organizing and fostering the forestry profession in America speaks more to the efforts of his professional rivals (especially but not exclusively Gifford Pinchot) to elevate their own work at the expense of his than it does to his actual contributions. The one full-length biography of him, Bernhard Eduard Fernow: A Story of North American Forestry, does little to help recover his reputation because of its dated interpretations (it was originally published in 1951) and poor organization. (A bit encyclopedic, it is, however, an excellent resource for understanding the beginnings of forestry in the western hemisphere.)

John McGuire, R. Max Peterson, and F. Dale Robertson at the book signing party for the 1991 reprint of the Fernow biography.

Left to right: USFS Chiefs John McGuire, R. Max Peterson, and F. Dale Robertson at the book signing party for the 1991 reprint of the Fernow biography (FHS Archives).

It’s time now for a new biography of Fernow — one that incorporates the historiography of the last half-century and can also properly assess his legacy now that so much has been written about the agency he helped to get up and running. That would be a worthy birthday gift!

For more information see the Bernhard E. Fernow page in the FHS U.S. Forest Service Headquarters History Collection.

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