Forgotten Characters from Forest History: Cal Green

By Eben Lehman on August 2, 2011

Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 4, in which we examine Cal Green.

Cal Green logoCal Green was a child of the popular “Keep Green” fire prevention campaign of the mid-twentieth century. Not to be confused with the jazz guitarist, the boxer, or the California Green Building Standards Code, Cal Green was a short-lived symbol of the California timber industry, as well as a regional figure in the growing national forest fire prevention movement. His existence may have been fleeting, but Cal nonetheless represents an important chapter in the history of forest-related organization on the state level.

Cal’s lineage can be traced back to May 31, 1940, when Washington Governor Clarence D. Martin issued a proclamation appealing for the public to become proactive in the prevention of wildfires. Martin’s call led directly to the creation of the Keep Washington Green Association, the first statewide forest fire prevention organization of its kind. Washington’s model proved influential, and in May of 1941 Oregon Governor Charles Sprague called together state leaders to form a Keep Oregon Green Association. From there the movement took off. The American Forest Institute formed a national Keep America Green program in 1944, and by the beginning of 1949, twenty-four states had their own Keep Green programs.

Keep California GreenCalifornia was in this first group of states to join the movement. Like other states’ campaigns, Keep California Green advocated for forest fire prevention while also demonstrating the importance of protecting the state’s valuable forest resources. The program proved successful, and by the 1960s the leadership of Keep California Green decided the organization needed its own mascot. Who or what would best represent their work? Keep Idaho Green was already setting the tone with their brilliant and unique Guberif campaign. The Guberif would be hard to top, so instead California decided to go a more traditional route.

Mean Cal GreenIn 1965, Keep California Green officially adopted a new character as their mascot. A logger with a hard hat and boots, usually carrying a shovel, he was named (what else?) “Cal Green.” The organization’s newsletter, Keep Greener, announced his arrival in May 1965: “‘Cal Green’ has been adopted to serve as front man of this timber industry oriented group. ‘Cal’ will be the central figure in all future Keep California Green publications and will cover California with his fire prevention efforts.”

As a logger, Cal clearly demonstrated the importance of forest industries while delivering his messages of fire prevention. His image popped up on signs, billboards, and trucks around the state, as well as on Keep California Green’s publications, mailings, and advertisements. Unfortunately for Cal, though, his time was relatively short-lived. There’s no official record stating a reason for his demise, but for whatever reason the character never caught on. Maybe he wasn’t cute and cuddly enough for the kids, maybe it was the Hitler-esque mustache, or maybe it was the Sixties and Cal represented The Man at a time when California youths were flocking to Haight-Ashbury. More likely, it was just the overwhelming popularity of Smokey Bear as the singular figure of fire prevention nationwide. Regardless, here at Peeling Back the Bark we pay tribute to this forgotten character with a few selections from our archives of the little man in action.

Cal Green sign

Cal Green sign displayed at front entrance of the Yolo County Fair in Woodland, California.

Cal Green message

Cal Green display board

Keep Greener header

Header of “Keep Greener,” newsletter of the Keep California Green organization.

Cal Green poster

Cal Green poster distributed to California’s County Fair Associations.

Cal Green fire danger sign.

Fire danger sign featuring Cal Green, circa 1968.

Bob Sloss Cal Green cartoon

Cal Green cartoon by Robert L. Sloss.