A plan to drop a recognizable logo in this part of the country — the Forest Service’s iconic shield — generated so much outrage among the agency’s retirees that the idea has been dropped.

In early January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly introduced a policy to phase out all of its sub-agencies’ logos, including the Forest Service’s, and replace them with the USDA symbol.

But that policy was kept so under wraps that not even Pacific Northwest forest supervisors were told. Some of them only heard about it in retrospect late last week — after the USDA had decided, in light of the virulent opposition from the Forest Service’s “Old Smokies” retiree group, to keep the service’s shield logo intact.

“We were all getting ready for a good fight,” said Jim Golden of Sonora, Calif., chairman of the retiree group.

“Of course the alarm went off with our group. The strength of an organization like ours is we can say things in a different way — we can say things the Forest Service (current employees) can’t because of politics.

“We went into it with the attitude that it would be no holds barred.”

The retirees, though, didn’t swing into action until barely two weeks ago because the new USDA policy — while ostensibly already in force for 31/2 months — wasn’t known to the people in the field.

Questions sent Monday morning by the Yakima Herald-Republic to the office of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack prompted a short email reply with this statement, which was “to be attributed to ‘a USDA spokesperson’ ”: “The US Forest Service shield is exempted from the One USDA branding directive.”

Also Monday morning, Forest Service headquarters around the country received the same message, with this terse directive, from Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C.: “Good morning, colleagues. Per USDA, we are cleared at all levels to provide only the following comment when queried about the (Forest Service) shield. If we get further guidance, we will let you know.”

While current Forest Service employees could not comment on the record, many retirees were aghast at the idea of what they saw as the USDA’s usurping the service’s shield logo.

“I just think that’s horrible,” said Doug Jenkins, who retired as a Naches Ranger District information specialist four months ago. “It doesn’t surprise me, as if they didn’t have better things to do than do away with the Forest Service shield so they can have their own little realm.”

The Forest Service’s logo has been around since the agency’s inception in 1905 under then-chief forester Gifford Pinchot. It was a former Gifford Pinchot National Forest supervisor who was instrumental in marshaling the opposition to the shield logo’s removal.

Ted Stubblefield, who retired in 1999, said he was told about the shield logo’s impending demise two weeks ago “from an insider, a person at a fairly high level,” who asked not to be identified. Stubblefield spent the next day and a half verifying it, and then began getting the word out to the “Old Smokies.”

Almost immediately, the retiree group began receiving and forwarding letters from former employees from all levels of the service.

One retired 34-year employee sent sarcastic congratulations through the USDA’s online feedback forum, calling the new standards “egotistical bureaucratic tunnel vision” and “the best example of top-down, super-centralized, micro-managed piece of bureaucratic direction that it has been my disgust to read.”

Stubblefield said he and the “Old Smokies” began hearing from retirees “that had never commented on any issue prior to this. It really got to them. It’s pretty sad for politicians to not really look at the history of something before they decide to discard it.”

Golden, chairman of the “Old Smokies,” said the decision to merge the logos into one would also cost “millions of dollars” to replace the shield “on thousands of uniforms, thousands of vehicles and office buildings, every darn campground sign. And to do this in this day and age of budget issues?”

The Forest Service is probably the only USDA agency that would qualify as a household name, and many would argue its employees have risked more than those in most other USDA agencies.

Since the Forest Service’s inception 108 years ago, 329 of its employees have died on the job — most while fighting forest fires. Seventy-five of those firefighters died during the catastrophic 1910 “Blow-Up” fire in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest.

The USDA’s other agencies aren’t as well known. Their names: Agricultural Marketing Service; Agricultural Research Service; Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion; Economic Research Service; Farm Service Agency; Food and Nutrition Services; Food Safety and Inspection Service; Foreign Agricultural Service; Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration; National Agricultural Library; National Agricultural Statistics Service; National Institute of Food and Agriculture; Natural Resources Conservation Service; Risk Management Agency; and Rural Development.

And only the Forest Service has a readily recognizable logo, something that means something to everyone who wears it.

“One of the proudest moments of my professional life,” said Stubblefield, the former Gifford Pinchot forest supervisor, “was when I was given a badge to wear for the Forest Service.

“It was pretty emotional for all of us, I think, to think somebody would treat it with such disregard, like so much poster card. It wasn’t going to go down without a helluva fight.”

• Scott Sandsberry can be reached at 509-577-7689 or ssandsberry@yakimaherald.com.