Anywhere on the map: Keep Washington green. . . and don’t be a GUBERIF!


Memorial Day weekend is almost here, and that means the official start of camping season. It also means that the intense part of the wildfire season is probably not far behind.

Everyone knows that Smokey Bear is the national wildfire prevention mascot. However, a few years before Smokey hit the national scene, a group of people in the lumber industry – notably Roderick Olzendam of Weyerhaeuser, who is credited with the idea (although there were earlier “Keep Green” campaigns in Vermont and Minnesota in the 1920s) — and Governor Clarence Martin, right here in Evergreen State, launched the “Keep Washington Green” campaign in May 1940.

The effort is credited with helping reduce the number of wildfires, and it has also inspired similar “Keep Green” initiatives in many other states.

“Keep Washington Green” was essentially an advertising campaign to educate people about the dangers of wildfires and the steps individuals could take to help prevent them. It was a sensible idea at the time, but it was also relatively new in 1940 to use the media and other advertising channels not to sell a product, but to change public behavior. In the 1930s, what is now the March of Dimes used similar techniques to raise awareness about polio and solicit donations to support patients and research.

The “Keep Green” effort came after something else that happened in the 1930s: two devastating fires near Tillamook, Oregon. With World War II already raging in Europe, officials here saw the need to protect the forest – and all that precious timber – from deliberate sabotage or equally devastating accidental fires.

“Keep Washington Green” consisted of print ads, posters, street signs, folk songs, a speakers bureau and, of course, those big white letters painted on the sidewalk that said:




And, in a move that would be emulated a decade later by the US Forest Service for its Smokey Bear publicity efforts, “Keep Washington Green” even offered a “Junior Forest Warden” program complete with membership cards.

In addition to government officials and business leaders, a few Northwest writers were involved in the creation of “Keep Washington Green”. One was Stewart Holbrook – who should be better known than he is, as he is considered by many to be one of the finest mainstream history writers to ever work in the North West. The other was Jim Stevens, the writer who popularized the Western mythology of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, and who penned Big Jim Turner, the definitive novel about logging camp labor unrest. Stevens wrote the lyrics to folk songs about forest fire prevention, which restaurateur (and infamous clam nectar seller) Ivar Haglund often sang on the radio.

Oregon followed with its own “Keep Oregon Green” program in 1941, then Minnesota created, you guessed it, “Keep Minnesota Green” in 1944. They were followed by a nationwide “Keep America Green” program. “, and then many other state programs. began across the country in the years immediately following World War II. According to a research archive website, “Keep Washington Green” was “disbanded on December 31, 1995 after a decline in membership, industry, and federal and state funding resources, coupled with growing awareness increased by other agencies and organizations of the must educate their constituents on the dangers of wildfires.

James Lewis is a historian at the Forest History Society in Durham, North Carolina. In addition to providing much of the background research for this story, Lewis provided additional details on the Washington-side “Keep Green” efforts in the Gem State.

“Idaho is going in a very different direction,” with its campaign, Lewis said by phone Thursday. “They create a character from scratch. It looks more or less like a cricket or a grasshopper, and they take the word “firebug” and reverse the letters, which spells “guberif”.

Washington did not have its own statewide fire prevention mascot, nor did Oregon or California. In fact, says James Lewis, Idaho might be the only state to create its own character.

“And so in Idaho, their campaign was ‘Don’t be a GUBERIF,'” Lewis said, and it really caught on among Idahoans. In a few vintage sketches (and a photo of someone wearing a Guberif costume), the fire mascot looks like a rogue insect – and is often depicted smoking and throwing cigarette butts, matches and ashes into them. throwing in the woods. The Guberif wasn’t a nice bear who prevented fires, letting you eat his honey and pretending he wasn’t that smart – this Guberif was a bad guy who did bad things.

The suits and pamphlets are now decades in the rearview mirror of Idahoans, but there’s apparently still a chance to catch a glimpse through the windshield of some of the last remaining evidence of The Age of Guberif.

“You can always find a rest stop or two” in Idaho, says James Lewis, “where as you pull over you see the words painted on the sidewalk and it says ‘DON’T BE A GUBERIF.’ .”

According to a 2020 report by KTVB 7 News in Boise, the last known location to see a “DON’T BE A GUBERIF” pavement painting was Heyburn State Park south of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

If you can confirm the existence of this pavement artifact, please contact Feliks Banel via the links below (and please submit a photo). In the meantime, it’s probably best if you ARE NOT A GUBERIF.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.


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