Everyone knows Smokey the Bear, the time-honored symbol of forest fire prevention, and every baby of the 80′s remembers Woodsy the Owl’s pleas of, “Give a hoot… don’t pollute”. And who can forget Captain Planet, who wreaked havoc on eco-violators with the help of his ethnically diverse teenage support group? These characters are timeless, but several environmental mascots have been widely forgotten (or ignored) over the years. Here are some of pop culture’s more obscure champions of earth-friendly causes.
In 2011, Kansas State University unveiled its new green mascot: EcoKat, “[KSU's] crusader of conservation and fanatic of fluorescent lightbulbs.” What followed can only be described as a ‘Twitter backlash’. “#EcoKat makes me want to leave my porch light on 24hours [sic] and drive two blocks to the gas station for a pack of gum,” tweeted @CMehring, and he was not the only social media enthusiast to mercilessly mock everything the poor feline-human hybrid stood for. Even interstate rival University of Kansas joined in the ridicule; “MY GOD. What is# kstate thinking?” tweeted @JayhawkTalk. “And you ask why you get made fun of… #EcoKat. Please never change.” The character’s website was quickly dismantled, and EcoKat has not been heard from since.
The National Park Service created Smokey, and then the U.S. Forest Service conjured up Woodsy. So, in the late 60′s, the Bureau of Land Management decided to design a mascot of their own. The result was Johnny Horizon, a stoic figure that espoused anti-littering rhetoric and bore more than a passing resemblance to Gary Cooper (fedora and all). Ol’ Johnny was a superstar of the 70′s; he ‘starred’ in an environmental campaign spearheaded by Ford Administration, and his ‘Environmental Test Kit’ — which included kid-friendly tools for measuring air and water quality — was a hit for Parker Brothers. Johnny Cash even recorded a single about him. Unrfortunately, public interest in Johnny Horizon had waned by the late 70′s, and the character was eventually discontinued.
In 1946, two years after Smokey the Bear first appeared, cartoonist Ed Dodd introduced Mark Trail, a plucky photo-journalist who found all sorts of trouble with his loyal Saint Bernard, Andy. While on assignment for Woods and Wildlife Magazine, Mr. Trail — who was inspired by real-life park ranger Charles N. Elliott — has encountered dangerous animals, done battle with environmental evildoers, and even rescued a young boy named Rusty from his abusive father (the young man later became his adopted son). Despite the character’s relative obscurity, Mark Trail is still doing his thing after more than 65 years; the comic strip still makes weekly appearances in roughly 175 newspapers.
Here’s a strange one. Mr. Maru is the jolly green spokeman of the Junior Eco Club, a Japanese organization that discourages young people from littering and living wastefully. To Americans, the character — whose name translates to ‘Mr. Round’ — looks like a cross between the green Teletubby (Dipsy, to those in the know) and the Kool-Aid spokesman. “Perhaps Mr. Maru and Kool-Aid Man could join forces against global warming,” WebEcoist recently noted, “providing the forces fighting climate change with a… one-two punch.” Oh yeahhhhhh!
Tree Bear, an ‘original’ creation introduced by the Oklahoma Forestry Services, has a simple message: “Good things come from trees, our renewable natural resource”. So it’s no surprise that he’s joined his ursine elder Smokey in a series of campaigns advocating for effective forest conservation. He may be a blatant rip-off, but Tree Bear educates children throughout the Sooner State about the value of trees and the need to protect them from destructive forces, both natural and man-made. So, there’s that.
By Brad Nehring