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Thursday, June 14, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Is Woodsy Owl Endangered? Whoooo Knows? -- Rangers Fearful Of Ruffling Feathers In Logging Areas

Woodsy Owl, Smokey the Bear's feathered sidekick, may be making fewer appearances if its winged kin, the northern spotted owl, is listed as an endangered species next week.

The controversy surrounding the spotted owl already has prompted some U.S. Forest Service rangers to exercise caution in using Woodsy Owl at fairs and other events in logging communities.

Not that anyone would actually harm Woodsy - or the Forest Service employees who wear the heavy costume, flapping its wings and rolling its eyes.

But the spotted owl is scorned by many people in the timber industry, and some Forest Service officials fear that Woodsy's appearance might upset some loggers. Others privately joke that the mascot's message might have to change from ``Give A Hoot, Don't Pollute,'' to ``Give a Hoot, Don't Shoot.''

The spotted owl has come to symbolize the war of words between the timber industry and environmental groups over the fate of old-growth forests in the Northwest. Scientists consider the rare bird an indicator of the health of those forests.

If, as expected, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declares the owl threatened or endangered, vast tracts of old-growth timber will likely be protected from logging. Some experts predict that up to 28,000 timber-related jobs could be lost by 2000.

``It's an issue we should be sensitive about, especially in rural logging communities,'' said Rudy Edwards, district ranger in

North Bend. ``In Forks, for example, I don't think you'd want to go down a street in a Woodsy Owl costume, do you? Some things take a little common sense.''

Luckily for Woodsy, the ranger district that includes Forks does not own one of the mascot costumes. Instead, the Soleduck Ranger District relies mostly on Smokey the Bear for its educational programs. But many of the state's other ranger districts - 28 in six national forests - have Woodsy costumes and use them often.

Some of those districts may play it safe after next week's ruling.

``Here at Quinault, the community is very dependent on timber supplies, so we will use some discretion about using a symbol like that,'' said Rex Holloway, timber-management assistant in the Quinault Ranger District. ``We generally participate in the Grays Harbor County Fair, for example, but we may decide not to use Woodsy Owl because some people might see that as a slap in the face.''

Holloway, however, stressed his district's commitment to Woodsy, and has no plans to permanently clip his wings.

That sentiment was echoed in the agency's national headquarters in Washington, D.C., and by local rangers.

``Woodsy is not dead by any means,'' said Edwards in North Bend. ``We're not going to put him away in mothballs.''

He and other Forest Service officials noted that Woodsy Owl has been around since 1971, when he was created to complement Smokey the Bear. Since then, Woodsy's jaunty green cap and wide eyes have become a familiar symbol in the campaign against polluting national forests. But some people think he never really captured the public's heart.

``Woodsy Owl has never been as popular as Smokey the Bear,'' said Christine Arredondo, acting district ranger in the Skykomish Ranger District.

Still, he does have his fans.

Just ask Norm Hesseldahl, spokesman for the Forest Service in Oregon.

In April, Hesseldahl restricted Woodsy's classroom visits because emotions were running so high about the spotted owl in Corvallis and nearby logging communities.

``Feelings are very strong, and I was afraid that by appearing in local classrooms, with a Forest Service employee in uniform along with Woodsy Owl, some people might get upset and might feel we were insensitive to the emotions around that issue,'' he said.

Students and educators rebelled, however, and Woodsy was reinstated.

``I learned very quickly that people are able to make the distinction between him and the spotted owl,'' said Hesseldahl.

At the White River Ranger District, the staff unwittingly found a way to avoid the problem altogether.

``Our Woodsy suit is too small, awkward and hot,'' said Mike Evans, the district's recreational supervisor. ``So nobody wants to be in it anyway.''

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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