Man who unwittingly inspired greatest federal statute dies
Here’s a quiz: who is the creature defined by 16 United States Code sec. 580p(1) as a “fanciful owl” who wears forest green “slacks,” a brown belt, and “a Robin Hood style hat” with a red feather.
The answer, of course, is Woodsy.
It’s unhealthy, but I’ve spent at least a few hours of my limited earthly existence pondering the so-called Woodsy Owl-Smokey Bear Act of 1974 and its implementing regulations. Maybe it’s because I teach natural resources law. Maybe it’s because I had recurrent nightmares about Woodsy as a kid (those huge eyes!). Maybe it’s because I’m seriously screwed up.
In any case, in addition to defining Woodsy as described above, the Act defines “Smokey Bear” as “Smokey Bear” (no further description needed, apparently) and “Secretary” as the Secretary of Agriculture (sadly, the statute does not say what color slacks the Secretary of Agriculture wore, or his preferred style of hat. That would have been awesome.).
A few questions:
Why did Congress feel the need to define Woodsy as a “fanciful” owl? Was it concerned that the statute might be overbroad, unintentionally encompassing real owls who wear green slacks and hats with feathers?
The Act claims that the United States government owns the phrase, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.” Later, the Department of Agriculture claimed rights in a second phrase: “Lend a Hand, Care for the Land.” Did the Department of Agriculture exceed the scope of its authority under the Act?
Who came up with a lame saying like “Lend a Hand, Care for the Land,” and did they notice it doesn’t scan?
What circumstances compelled the Department to state in its Smokey Bear Guidelines (March 2009 at 13) that “The costumed bear should not force itself on anyone”?
Unfortunately, a man who might have been able to shed some light on these questions has died. Herbert Bell, who died at age 90 last week, created Woodsy with a group of forest rangers. He also marketed Smokey, Lassie, and Mr. Magoo.
According to his obituary in the New York Times, Mr. Bell considered using a trout instead of an owl. A trout. Now that would have caused nightmares . . . . but it could have been a great statute.