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Posts Tagged ‘Bureau of Land Management’

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…)

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In 1964, Congress created the Public Land Law Review Commission “to explore how to simplify public land laws and make administering them more effective.”  Now, forty-five years later, the General Accounting Office has released a report on the pros and cons of moving the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of the Interior.  (The full report and a condensed version are available online.)

The reorganization discussion pops up about once a decade.  The four most recent explorations of how to reconcile the management of federal lands between the two Cabinet-level departments all resulted in recommendations that were never acted on.  (Materials related to these and other earlier efforts are listed under “Reorganization” on our U.S. Forest Service History hub.)

The latest exploration, the GAO report released last month, offers no recommendations but sheds light on the problems and benefits of moving the Forest Service to Interior.  If anything, the emphasis on the lack of short-term gains led me to infer this report as a tacit endorsement of not reorganizing but rather for the four major land management agencies (the Forest Service under USDA and the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service in Interior) to simply work harder at cooperating and coordinating their efforts.

Congress asked the GAO to look into the matter because “the emergence of new challenges for both the Forest Service and Interior during a time of severe budgetary constraint, as well as the growing need for agencies to collaborate on large-scale natural resource problems, has revived interest in the potential for improving federal land management and program efficiency and effectiveness.”  They were asked specifically “to describe (1) how federal land management
would potentially be affected by moving the Forest Service into Interior and (2) what factors should be considered if Congress and the administration were to decide to move the Forest Service into Interior and what management practices could facilitate such a move.”

The report explores the cultural, organizational, and legal factors the government would need to consider if the move were made.  One concern is the impact the move might have on the Forest Service’s role in state and private land management — a mission focus the agency shares with USDA but doesn’t have in common with Interior.  (See pages 16-19 of the full report for more.)  Not surprisingly, Interior Department reviewers of the report observed “that a move would not necessarily diminish the Forest Service’s role in state and private forestry or cause the Forest Service to modify its current role.”  The Forest Service and various stakeholders disagree with that sentiment.  All reviewers from both departments agreed, however, that the Forest Service mission aligns well with the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mission and a move to Interior could “increase the overall effectiveness of some of the agencies’ programs and policies.”  The obstacles for moving are many but not are insurmountable.  Yet the report’s focus on the expected limited short-term benefits makes them seem insurmountable.

It would, perhaps, have been more fruitful if in asking for this investigation Congress had not limited the GAO to the one question of moving the Forest Service to Interior.  It should have given the GAO the authority to look at the entire issue: what would be involved in moving some agencies or responsibilities to Agriculture under the Forest Service; moving some but not all of the Forest Service’s responsibilities (like grazing) to Interior; or if the two departments were combined.  Looking at only one question leaves the other ones to go begging.

In my opinion, by limiting the investigation, the GAO virtually assured that no new models or proposals could emerge.  Furthermore, this limited focus meant that the report would almost immediately begin gathering dust instead of beginning a much-needed conversation about how to manage public and private lands in the 21st century and beyond.

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