Forgotten Characters from Forest History: “The Guberif”

By Eben Lehman on January 6, 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 here with Part 2 in which we examine the Guberif.

The Guberif“What the hell is a Guberif?”

Residents of Idaho began asking that question in 1950 when the Guberif first invaded their state’s forests. Rarely seen today, the Guberif is a creature that stalks the woods, leaving behind devastating forest fires in its wake. Commonly found throughout Idaho during the 1950s, the creature was mostly eradicated through a successful statewide “wanted dead or alive” hunting campaign. A sworn enemy of the forest, the infamous Guberif nonetheless developed a cult following, and still stands as one of the most unique characters in state history.

To fully understand the Guberif, we first need to go back to 1946, the year the Keep Idaho Green campaign was launched. The campaign was an extension of the Keep Green program that began in the state of Washington in 1940 to combat the growing number of catastrophic fires in the Pacific Northwest. The program quickly spread nationwide and other states began implementing their own forest fire prevention advertising campaigns under the Keep Green banner. By 1946 twelve states, including Idaho, had created their own official Keep Green organizations.

Keep Idaho Green logoThe driving force behind the creation of Keep Idaho Green was the Idaho State Junior Chamber of Commerce. Most of the Keep Idaho Green organization’s early executive committee members (composed of representatives from State, federal, and private interests) came from the Junior Chamber. Like other states with Keep Green programs, the Idaho organization designed and distributed educational materials such as posters, stickers, pamphlets, and displays boards, as well as short films and radio spots featuring messages of fire prevention.

Looking for a way to help differentiate their forest fire prevention campaign from that of other states, Keep Idaho Green invented a new character. First introduced in 1950, the “Guberif” was defined as a creature that starts fires in Idaho’s forests through acts of carelessness. The development of the character is credited to Richard A. Trzuskowski, who was publicity director for the Keep Idaho Green committee at the time.

Guberif Postcard

One of the many Guberif postcards distributed by Keep Idaho Green, 1951.

Designed as an ugly winged insect, normally seen smoking a cigarette or pipe and sporting a clueless expression, the new Guberif character was plastered on posters and other items by the Keep Idaho Green organization during the next few years. In 1951 alone, more than 100,000 postcards featuring the Guberif were distributed in Idaho. In addition, 300 road surface signs bearing messages of fire prevention – and mentioning the Guberif – were painted on Idaho highways (some of which can still be found today in various parts of the state). A short film was even produced featuring the Guberif in a starring role.

Guberif road sign

Clarence Grone, director of the Rutledge Unit of Potlatch Forests at Coeur D’Alene, points out one of the new Keep Idaho Green road surface signs, 1952.

Derived from a relatively simple concept – the word “firebug” spelled backward – the character produced immediate reactions. The Guberif was a name that people remembered, and the character sparked discussion throughout the state (sometimes beginning with “What the hell is a Guberif?”). From a marketing perspective the character can be viewed as a success, due to its impact and creativity. Thanks to the Guberif, fire prevention became a topic of conversation statewide. Alas, like other forgotten forest characters the Guberif eventually fell out of use. His legacy lives on in some quarters, though, and after decades in hibernation various campaigns are underway to bring the character back to life. Whether he ever returns or not, we here at Peeling Back the Bark pledge to keep the memory of the infamous Guberif alive. In tribute, here are a few selections from our archives documenting this unique yet forgotten character of forest history:

Guberif

The Guberif is again stalking Idaho, reminding school children and others to be careful with fire in or near the woods. Here Lorna Hibbard, 20, of Boise shakes an admonishing finger at the foe of Idaho forests. Under the paper-mache head is Barney Wosniak, Keep Idaho Green director, 1957 (Image ID# FHS6020).

Guberif postcards

Two more examples from the series of Guberif postcards distributed in Idaho in 1951. Note that Smokey Bear appears in the card on the left.

Earl Bullock, Lewiston, Potlatch Forests Publicity Director (left), and Robert M. Naylor (right), chairman of Keep Idaho Green committee, are pointing out that the new crop of Guberifs in Idaho will be unwelcome in the forest areas (Image ID# FHS6019).

Dont Be a Guberif poster

Robert Naylor (left), chairman of Keep Idaho Green, admires a brand new Guberif poster with Ira Anderson (right, standing), Boise-Payette Lumber Co., and Steele Barnett (kneeling), assistant state forester, 1951.

Keep Idaho Green queen Lola Layher warns Guberif that his presence in Idaho isn’t wanted, 1956.

Trzuskowsk and Guberif

Richard A. Trzuskowski (left), Keep Idaho Green director, with Guberif sign, 1954.

For more images of the Keep Idaho Green campaign, check out the following photo gallery: Keep Green Campaign — Idaho.

5 responses to “Forgotten Characters from Forest History: “The Guberif””

  1. Eben, many thanks for the history lesson and the walk down memory lane. In addition to the interesting article, about Guberif, your mention of Ranger Rick brought back fond memories as a young man of waiting for the next magazine to come out. My grandparents gave me a subscription every year, and it helped give me a great perspective of nature and conservation.

  2. R. Neil Sampson says:

    As a public school student in Idaho in the 1950’s, I remember the Guberif well. My grandparents were settlers in nothern Idaho who told me stories about 1910, when the sun went out for days at a time as the smoke hung over their farm.

  3. […] 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 here with Part 2 in which we examine the Guberif… http://fhsarchives.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/forgotten_characters_guberif/ […]

  4. […] A Guberif—”firebug” backwards—was a kind of grotesque insect created by the Keep Idaho Green campaign in the mid-’40s. The character, meant to differentiate Idaho’s fire prevention campaign from those of other states, was said to start forest fires due to reckless behavior. The creature was more popular during its time than you might expect, considering it was a giant bug. In 1951, the Guberif was featured on over 100,000 postcards and 300 road signs in Idaho, some of which can still be seen today, and live Guberifs even showed up at some events. […]

  5. […] was launched to educate the public on preventing forest fires. In 1950 Idaho introduced the Guberif as a reminder for Idahoans to exercise responsibility while enjoying our forests and prevent forest […]