As national forest policy slowly turns from logging to ecosystem management, the U.S. Forest Service is unveiling a new “buff” Woodsy Owl to carry a new slogan to children.
Gone is the roly-poly Woodsy of “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” fame, who was temporarily retired from service in the Northwest as too controversial during the battle over the northern spotted owl.
In his place is a slimmer, fitter Woodsy, sporting hiking boots and a backpack in addition to his old Robin Hood hat, with the new slogan, “Lend a hand, care for the land.”
The new Woodsy shook hands Tuesday with Vice President Al Gore at Earth Day activities at Anacostia National Park in Washington, D.C., and also appeared at the Atlanta Zoo in Georgia.
“Woodsy Owl, who has helped us the past 25 years reach the American people with important conservation messages, has been redesigned to appeal to a group of future conservation leaders - children aged 5-8,” Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck said in a letter to regional foresters around the country.
The Forest Service still is cautious about sending Woodsy into spotted owl country, where logging cutbacks on national forests to protect fish and wildlife habitat contributed to lost timber jobs.
National forests in the Northwest have yet to buy one of the $1,900 costumes, said regional spokeswoman Sandy Berger in Portland.
In the rest of the country, Woodsy isn’t so controversial. Market research found he was recognized by more than 70 percent of households and 83 percent of those with children, the Forest Service said.
At a time when Forest Service budgets are shrinking, partly from less logging prompted by more protection for fish and wildlife habitat, the agency is looking forward to making a little money by licensing Woodsy Owl merchandise.
The Woodsy makeover was done in collaboration with the Children’s Television Workshop, producers of the Sesame Street television show, which also will help spread Woodsy’s message.
“Educational research shows that as young people become increasingly urbanized, they may never connect to the natural world if we do not reach them during these crucial years when their environmental attitudes are forming,” a Forest Service statement said. The decision was not made lightly. Woodsy never had as much credibility with Forest Service employees as Smokey Bear, and the agency considered dropping the owl entirely. But he was rehabilitated after focus groups found he still could fly if he were updated.
“Is this Woodsy on steroids?” quipped Mike Beard, spokesman for the Northwest Forestry Association, a timber industry group. “His new slogan is one we hope the Clinton administration takes very seriously, and will act to correct ineffective and contradictory forest management policies.”