U.S. Forest Ranger Betty White

The actress has been active in animal charities since the early 1970s.

ByABC News
June 16, 2010, 10:05 AM

Nov. 9, 2010 — -- With seven Emmy Awards, including one won earlier this year for her hosting duties on "Saturday Night Live," and a new two-book publishing deal, legendary actress and animal lover Betty White can now add another title to her list of credits: Forest Ranger.

The 88-year-old acting icon received the honorary designation today at a special ceremony held by the U.S. Forest Service at Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Surrounded by uniformed forest rangers and a 7-foot-tall Smokey the Bear mascot, White accepted the honor and the new title with a large-brimmed Forest Ranger hat on her head and a smaller, plush Smokey the Bear doll in her arms.

In an emotional acceptance speech, White said of her parents, "they would be more proud of this than of any other award I have won."

As a child, White vacationed with her family in the High Sierras, where she said they often went for days "without seeing another two-legged soul."

In an interview with ABC News, White said those early treks into the wilderness cemented her desire to work with animals and one day become a forest ranger.

"But back then, girls were not allowed to become forest rangers," she said.

When the U.S. Forest Service was established in 1905, and for many years after, there were no female rangers. Today, women comprise more than a third of the agency's workforce; a fact that did not escape its most recent honoree.

"I was so pleased to look out and see all those women in their ranger uniforms," White told ABC News.

A Life Dedicated To Helping Animals

It may have taken television's "Golden Girl" 80 years to realize her dream of becoming a forest ranger, but the actress has been active in animal charities since the early 1970s, when she produced and hosted a syndicated television show called "The Pet Set," which introduced viewers to the pets of some of the nation's biggest celebrities.

White later had a daily radio program called "Betty White on Animals," and wrote a book called "Betty White's Pet Love."

Last year, White was named president emerita of the Morris Animal Foundation, where she has served as a trustee for 39 years.

The charity funds veterinary research to help treat companion and service pets, horses and wild animals across the globe.

Of her latest affiliation as an honorary forest ranger, White said "I don't think I'll take this ranger hat off for a long time."

When asked about her planned appearance at an awards ceremony tonight for Tina Fey, White said, "It's a formal affair. Would it be all right if I wore the hat?"