WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 9, 2010 AT 1:00 PM EST - Betty White's lifelong dedication to protecting wilderness and wildlife was recognized today when the U.S. Forest Service proclaimed her an honorary forest ranger.
White said in previous interviews that she wanted to be a forest ranger as a little girl, but that women were not allowed to do that then. During the ceremony at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell remarked that despite those challenges, she found ways to make a difference in conservation and animal welfare.
"I am sorry you couldn't join us before," said Tidwell. "Judging from your illustrious career, you would have made marvelous contributions to our agency and to the cause of conservation across the United States," he said. "Betty, you are a role model for little girls – for all of us – never to give up on our dreams."
Today’s U.S. Forest Service is 38-percent female, including rangers, scientists and leaders at every level.
White, after hugging Smokey Bear and receiving a forest ranger hat and badge, stressed the importance of protecting nature.
"Wilderness is getting harder and harder to find these days on our beautiful planet and we’re abusing our planet to the point of almost no return," she said. "In my heart I’ve been a forest ranger all my life, but now I’m official."
White said one of her earliest memories is riding in the saddle with her father through California’s High Sierra, where she fostered a deep love of nature.
"I cannot thank you enough. As excited as I am today, as grateful as I am – I know two people who would be over the moon – my mom and dad," White said.
"I’m going to a wonderful celebration for Tina Fey this evening, and it’s a formal affair," she said to the audience, holding her new forest ranger hat and badge. "Do you think it would be alright if I wore my hat?"
The 193 million acres of Forest Service lands are home to more than 3,500 rare and sensitive species including some of the best remaining habitat for elk, grizzly bear, lynx, and many reptiles and amphibians. The Forest Service sustains the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.