Since his “birth” on August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear has been a recognized symbol of conservation and protection of America’s forests. This is a vintage Smokey Bear shoulder patch, photo courtesy of Dennis Ryan.
His message about wildfire prevention has helped to reduce the number of acres burned annually by wildfires, from about 22 million (1944) to an average of 7 million today. Many Americans believe that lightning starts most wildfires. In fact, on average, 9 out of 10 wildfires nationwide are caused by people.
The principle causes are campfires left unattended, trash burning on windy days, arson, careless discarding of smoking materials or BBQ coals, and operating equipment without spark arrestors.
Smokey Bear is the center of the longest-running public service advertising (PSA) campaign in U.S. history. Since 1944, he has been communicating his well-known message, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.”
This is the debut 1944 Smokey poster.
In 2001, the term ‘Wildfires’ was introduced to include all unwanted, unplanned fires in natural areas such as grass fires or brush fires. The Smokey Bear campaign is a critical tool specially designed to ask for every citizen’s conscientious commitment to be responsible with fire.
A new ad campaign encourages young adults to “Get Your Smokey On” – that is, to become like Smokey and speak up when others are acting carelessly.
Primary source: USFS News, Gary C. Chancey, Wayne National Forest