MANHATTAN, Kan. — Hope — the enduring kind. Responsibility. And, renewal, always renewal.
Those are awfully big messages to come from a feisty little orange creature with an oversize yellow mustache and matching eyebrows. For 40 years, however, they’ve been the Lorax’s real meaning when he says he “speaks for the trees” — and, inadvertently, sometimes creates controversy.
The odd little character has been the trees’ spokesperson through generations of children, hearing his lines read from an aptly named Dr. Seuss classic, The Lorax. He’s played his role in musicals, TV specials and now a major new 3D-CG animated movie of the Lorax’s story.
Foresters, however, can be surprisingly quick to point out that the Lorax doesn’t always speak for them. They like his core messages, but have mixed feelings about the Lorax’s fantasy world.
After all, sustaining healthy forests sometimes requires cutting down trees and removing invasive plants. Besides, most people enjoy and benefit from the products forests can produce.
Nonetheless, state and national foresters are among the diverse groups who’ve geared up for the theater release of the Lorax movie. A trove of family-friendly, forest-related games, lesson plans, activities, screen savers and the like is up and ready to go at www.discovertheforest.org/.
“We’re hoping the movie will remind people about how important forests are for everything from the oxygen we breathe to the foods wildlife eat. With luck, it’ll inspire parents to take their kids out to see the real thing,” said Bob Atchison of the Kansas Forest Service.
One of Atchison’s frustrations as a forester is that many people actually exemplify the old saying about “can’t see the forest for the trees.”
“Where I see a small forest coming down, many Kansans will see a housing addition or new mall going up,” he said. “Few people seem to realize Kansas actually has forests — seven different kinds. They’ll go to a fishing lake, surrounded by acres and acres of trees, and sort of mentally dismiss the forest as being another woody campground. Amazing.
“Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. Plains dwellers may need a Colorado mountain before they can see trees in the wild as a forest.”
West Coast foresters have their own frustrations. For one thing, conflict and controversy are much more likely to erupt out there, Atchison said. In fact, that actually happened once when an elementary school in logging country maintained library check-out copies of The Lorax.
“I hope all of our children learn to be enthusiastic about stewardship and our natural resources,” he said. “But, the rest of us can’t afford to oversimplify this kind of issue to the point it could fit in a children’s book. As we’re realizing how much we need trees for our very survival, forests are facing increasing threats to their own.
“We can blame those threats on climate change, population growth, lack of knowledge, mismanagement or a whole host of things. But, it would make a lot more sense if we all would realize we have a vested interest in forest health and sustainability.
“With that kind of common ground and personal responsibility, we could go a long way toward generating the hope and balance that the Lorax’s world lacked.”
The U.S. National Forest Service estimates the nation now has more than 751 million acres of forested land. The majority of the forests are in private hands — i.e., owned by families, not government or corporations.
Those private landowners plant about 4 million trees every day. Their plantings average out to five new trees per year for every man, woman and child in America.
“That’s the great thing about trees. Unlike our water, air and soil — which trees help clean and protect — forests are a renewable resource,” Atchison said. “We just need to foster the conditions that best allow that to happen.”
The Ad Council, Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment worked with the nation’s foresters to develop this year’s “Discover the Forest” campaign. Its goal is to encourage families to see the Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax movie, but then to “unplug” and reconnect with nature.