Iconic symbol of B.C. forest management facing extinction

“Old Smokies” fight U.S. bureaucracy to protect an enduring symbol of the U.S. Forest Service could be a lesson for B.C. Forest Services

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Is an iconic logo that is one of the most recognizable symbols of British Columbia slowly vanishing from public view?

The B.C. Forest Service oval is probably the most definitive symbol of B.C.’s forest service known to the public, having recently celebrated its centennary in 1912.

However, recent changes to provincial ministries and a trend towards more generic identification of government ministries and departments is putting pressure on the traditional symbol as an identifier of provincial forestry departments.

On October 25, 2010, then B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell announced the creation of a new ministry. In a sweeping change affecting the ministries of energy and mines, agriculture, environment and forests,a new ministry known as Natural Resource Operations was added to the mix. The new ministry did not replace the other ministries so much as it assumed several of the more“operational” functions of each of them.

Of all the ministries brought under this “single umbrella” the Forest Service was the largest. The idea behind the move was to streamline government and create a “one stop shop” for permitting. In doing so, the function of the Forest Service became more multi-faceted, resulting in a perceived need for a new generic logo that would cover the ministry’s new functions.

As a result, the public has since been  seeing a new logo replacing the forest service oval in many former Forest Service areas – including one which is much more visible to teh public in the summer months – that of the Wildfire Management Branch.

Even though the Wildfire Management Branch was made a departmental  entity unto itself in 1995, the push for a generic identifying symbol appears to be part of the province’s long term plans.  The new symbol appears on many of the branch’s new leased vehicles.Wildfire branch officials in Penticton would not discuss policy issues with the Review, however, it appears that members of the B.C. wildfire team may feel some sentiment towards the oval  logo, as there appears to be no hurry by branch staff to replace it on wildfire branch owned vehicles.

Kayla Pepper, Fire Information Officer with the Kamloops Fire Centre, Wildfire Management Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, told the Review that “logo policy in place dictates that all new vehicles, stationary and signs used by Wildfire Management Branch will now have the provincial logo with the sunrise.

The BC Forest Service oval logo with the tree will remain on all uniforms and apparel.”

The forest service logo’s origins begin around the time of Canadian veterans returning home from the First World War (1914-1918). No one knows who designed the first oval, but numerous versions have been created over the years by draughtsmen, mapping assistants and technicans who designed such symbols as the forestry oval in order to make a unique statement about the forest service, in addition to provide an identity to those working in the service.

By the late ‘50s the oval had found its way into ministry annual reports, with newer, cleaner versions appearing through the 60s.

There was a brief period in the 70s when the oval was replaced with another more modern, up to date graphic that was meant to provide greater visibility to the Forest Service, but the oval eventually made its way back onto forestry business cards, documents, vehicles and websites.

The logo remains a stubborn symbol of pride to many in the forest service today, especially in wildfire management. Twenty- five year sterling silver service pins still bear the oval emblem, and in spite of the fact that the ministries of the Forest Service have undergone a long history of change and integration, the oval symbol has continued to survive.

With provincial official policy on the  venerable oval logo now relegating it strictly to clothing, it raises questions as to how much longer the emblem will be allowed to appear on official attire.

If British Columbia’s 100 year old symbol is to last much longer, it may be necessary for members of B.C.s  forest industry to look at what recently transpired with their American counterparts, and take similar action.

South of the 49th parallel, the U.S. Forest Service has their own iconic logo, established in 1905, which recently faced similar challenges.

The Back Forty, a California based publication centred on environmental, land use and other rural issues, noted in early April this of the U.S. Forest Service logo:

“For many current and past employees, it is (also) a badge of honour, a reflection of their deep and abiding attachment to their one time or present day roles as stewards of America’s national forests.”

The article went on to state:

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its “Visual standards guide” – a document that contained the following phrase: “agency logos are being phased out and replaced with a standardized signature model to be adopted by all USDA agencies.”

Public backlash against the change – as it applies to the U.S. Forest Service, at least – swiftly followed the Back Forty article.

The April 10 edition of the the  another American west publication, the Missoulian’s lead headline declared “USDA won’t jettison Forest Service shield logo”.

According to the Missoulian, the USDA “quietly introduced a phase out of all its sub agencies’ logos, including the Forest Service’s, to replace them with the USDA symbol.

The policy was kept under wraps to the extent that not even Pacific Northwest forest supervisors were told.

By the time they found out, in retrospect, early in April,  the USDA had already decided, in light of ‘virulent opposition from the Forest Service’s ‘Old Smokies”  retiree group, to keep the service’s shield intact.

The retiree group had only swung into action in late March – with the intent to fight for the logo, “no holds barred” because the new policy – ostensibly in force for three and a half months – wasn’t yet known to people in the field.

Ted Stubblefield, an “Old Smoky” who has been retired since 1999, first heard about plans for the shield’s demise from a high level insider in mid March. Once he had confirmed the news, he began spreading the word to other “Old Smokies.” Stubblefield noted that he was hearing from retirees who had never commented on an issue prior to this.

“It really got to them. It’s pretty sad for politicians to not really look at the history of something before they discard it,” quoted the Missoulian of Stubblefield.

An important point raised by the “Old Smokies” concerned budget costs. In an era of restraints and tight budgets, why was the USDA intent on spending millions to replace the shield on uniforms, buildings, vehicles and campgrounds, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Finally, the Missoulian noted that the U.S. Forest Service logo was “readily recognizable, something that means something to everyone who wears it.”

 

“It was pretty emotional for all of us, I think, to think somebody would treat it with such disregard, like so much poster card. It wasn’t going to go down without a helluva fight,” concluded Stubblefield.