Forest Service Gets to Keep Pine Tree Logo, But Controversy Points to Larger Problem

The Forest Service will not have to rebrand and use the USDA logo (right)
The Forest Service will not have to rebrand and use the USDA logo (right)

Three months after the USDA declared that all 20 of its agencies must jettison their individual logos and adopt the generic emblem of the Department of Agriculture, it has agreed under considerable pressure to spare the U.S. Forest Service's iconic symbol, the famed Pine Tree Shield.

The good news came in a cryptic one-sentence press release that the Forest Service issued and which USDA told it to attribute to "an unnamed USDA spokesman" -- "The US Forest Service shield is exempted from the One USDA branding directive."

That Byzantine-like bureaucratese deserves serious parsing, so let's start with the obvious: Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and his upper-level staff were seriously caught off-guard by the furor that its One USDA branding project unleashed outside the Forest Service in defense of the agency's historic symbol.

Yet so reluctant was USDA leadership to admit defeat at the hands of the Old Smokeys -- the thousands of Forest Service retirees who wrote impassioned emails and letters to the secretary and his minions challenging the department's action; so cornered were they by the onslaught of negative public opinion, that they would not allow Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to make the announcement directly to his 30,000 employees and would not identify a particular person with the 13 words exempting the agency from the rebranding effort.

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How apt that the department set its notice in the passive voice. By doing so it took no responsibility for its actions, an adept evasion that Czarist Russia's faceless bureaucrats routinely practiced and which Fyodor Dostoyevsky took such dark pleasure in pillorying.

Although there is no crime in being thoughtless (or evasive), the punishment in this case was meted out by those who once had worked within the system and now fought against its mindlessness. All credit for preserving the pine-tree logo goes to the agency retirees, the large number of FSx who remain committed to resolving some of the vital challenges confronting the 193 million acres of national forests their former employer stewards.

As I wrote in my column last week, they swiftly responded to what they interpreted as an attack on the Forest Service's legacy, and on the honorable work and years of devoted service that they had given to the agency, the Department of Agriculture, and by extension the American public.

By leaping into the fray, they turned back Secretary Vilsack's ill-conceived and ill-considered rebranding campaign. Their quick reactions also testify to the inescapable value of an engaged citizenry to a democratic society.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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