Smokey Bear Turns 75

We all love Smokey Bear. Photo credit: adweek

We all love Smokey Bear. Photo credit: adweek

Smokey Bear Turns 75. This year marks Smokey’s 75th year that he has cautioned Americans about the dangers of wild fires. Smokey Bear’s iconic first poster, depicting a brown bear, clad in jeans and a wide-brimmed forest ranger hat, debuted on Aug. 9, 1944.

It was later that a real life counterpart would “bear” the same name serving both as a living symbol and a cautionary tale.

According the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute,  in the 1950’s a badly burned bear cub was found clinging to a charred tree after a forest fire in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest. Nicknamed Smokey by firefighters, the orphaned cub was treated for his injuries and then flown to the Smithsonian National Zoo where he would live and serve as a reminder for wildfire prevention and conservation for 26 years until his death in 1976. When Smokey’s plane touched down at the nation’s capital airport literally hundreds of reporters, photographers and onlookers were on hand to chronicle his arrival and help spread his fame.  Millions of fans visited the famous bear during his lifetime, and sent him thousands of letters, and more than a few jars of honey. Smokey received so much mail that the US Postal Service provided him his own special zipcode-20252.

America’s national wildlife poster campaign dates back to WWII when Walt

Smokey Bear turns 75! Photo credit : East Valley Times

Smokey Bear turns 75! Photo credit : East Valley Times

Disney’s Bambi, along with friend’s Thumper and Flower, starred on early posters. Smokey‘s first appearance came on a 1944 poster (attributed to artist Albert Staehle, who possibly collaborated with writer and art critic Harold Rosenberg) where he was depicted dousing a campfire with a bucket of water.  The fist caption boasted “SMOKEY SAYS, “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 woods fires!” The iconic slogan “Remember…Only YOU can prevent forest fires” came a few years later in 1947.

Smokey is the longest-running public service campaign in America’s history, and is perhaps the most successful. A 1993 article by Charles E. Little in AmericanForests stated that when the campaign began in the 1940’s, fires regularly consumed on average some 30 million acres across the country. By 1988, less than 7.4 million acres were damaged.

Interesting facts:

In a 2007 paper entitled “Be careful what you wish for: the legacy of Smokey bear,” two researchers with the USDA Forest Service indicated that the long-standing policy of aggressive wildfire suppression“ has contributed to a decline in forest heath, an increase in fuel loads in some forests and wildfires that are more difficult and expensive to control.”

In 2001, in response to outbreaks of massive wildfires in natural areas other than forests and to emphasize that Smokey promotes prevention of unplanned outdoor fires and not prescribed fires, Smokey’s catchphrase was updated to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” instead of forest fires. This change was in response to fires in other natural areas and reminds the public to help prevent unplanned fires versus prescribed burns.

And, just for the record, it is Smokey Bear, and not Smokey the Bear. Addition of the word “the” to Smokey’s name occurred when Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote a song about Smokey in 1952 and added “the” to retain the song’s rhythm. The song proved popular and many fans began calling the famous icon Smokey the Bear, but, according to the USDA Forest Service (who after all has the last word) it is still Smokey Bear.

The Cradle of Forestry celebrates Smokey’s birthday with the hottest ticket in the Pisgah National Forest with games, prizes, live children’s music, and, of course, birthday cake. The party, scheduled in front of the Forestry Discovery Center, is included in the $6 admission for adults and $3 for youth ages 4-12. Children under 4 are admitted free. The fee also includes access to 15 hands-on exhibits in the Forest Discovery Center, including the firefighting helicopter simulator. The Cradle of Forestry in America Heritage Site is located just off our sister national park the Blue Ridge Parkway at 11250 Pisgah Hwy. Pisgah Forest, North Carolina 28768. For more information, call 828-877-3130.

Event Schedule:

11:30 am: Smokey Arrives: Meet Smokey Bear, help create a birthday card, and take a photo with the famous bear.

12 pm: Birthday Cake Time: Sing the Smokey Bear song and enjoy birthday cake.

12:30 pm Children’s Parade: Join the Rosman High School Marching Band in a birthday parade.

1:30-2:30 pm: Live Animal Presentation by Naturalist Carlton Burke and his animal friends.

2:45 pm: The History of Smokey Bear -Lecture for adult fans, presented by Forester Bob Beanblossom

2:30 pm-4pm: Pond Exploration with the Pisgah River Rangers,

The Cradle of Forestry is an America heritage site, the birthplace of science-based forest management, and is credited to George and Edith Vanderbilt of the nearby Biltmore Estate. Some 87,000 acres of Vanderbilt’s “Pisgah Forest” became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest, established in 1916. Part of that tract now includes The Cradle of Forestry’s 6500 acre site. Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, the site was designated by Congress in 1968 to “preserve develop, and make available to this and future generations the birthplace of forestry and forestry education in America.

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