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April 28, 2001
Smokey The Bear
Where there's Smokey, there's fire prevention!
Yosemite News Editorial Staff

Original Smokey Bear posterYOSEMITE -- More than half a century has passed since Smokey Bear first cautioned America to be careful with fire while enjoying the forest. The idea of preventing carelessly caused wildfires came long before the real bear's time. Wildfire safety quickly grew into necessity. With the advent of World War II, America feared that an enemy attack or sabotage could destroy our forest resources at a time when wood products were greatly needed for the war effort.
     As a result of this concern, the USDA Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program in 1942. It encouraged citizens nationwide to make a personal effort to prevent forest fires. To help convey the concept to the public, the Forest Service asked the War Advertising Council for assistance. This newly formed group of advertisers volunteered their time, expertise, and portions of their media schedules to help the government mobilize civilian support for the war effort.
     The council recognized the importance of protecting our forest from fire and began a campaign that encouraged people to assist the war effort by doing what they could to prevent forest fires. Timber was, after all, a primary commodity for battleships, gunstocks, and packing crates for military transport.
     In 1944, the council produced a poster featuring Walt Disney's "Bambi" character. The success of this poster demonstrated that an animal of the forest was the best messenger to promote the prevention of accidental forest fires. On August 2, 1944, the Forest Service and the War Advertising Council introduced a bear as the campaign symbol. This bear was to be black or brown and his expression intelligent, appealing, and slightly quizzical. To look his part, he would wear a traditional campaign hat.
Early Smokey     Albert Staehle, noted illustrator of animals, worked with this description to paint the forest fire prevention bear. His art appeared in the 1945 campaign, and the advertising symbol was given the name "Smokey Bear." This first poster carried the caption: "Smokey says: Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires."
     As the campaign grew, Smokey reached out to Americans from posters and roadside billboards, from the pages of magazines and newspapers, and over the air from hundreds of broadcasting stations. Many major corporations donated valuable advertising time and space. The result was great success for the Smokey Bear symbol and a decrease in accidental, human-caused forest fires.
     After World War II, the War Advertising Council changed its name to The Advertising Council. In the years that followed, the focus of Smokey's campaign broadened to appeal to children as well as adults.
     The earliest pictures of Smokey Bear varied in appearance form year to year, but his confident, friendly manner and the good sense of his fire prevention message were always there.
Smokey the Bear U.S. Postage Stamp     It was not until the work of Chuck Kuderna, during the 1965 campaign, that Smokey's image evolved into the one we know today.
     In addition to the public service advertising campaign, there were other needs for original art in the CFFP Program. In 1946, Rudy Wendelin, an artist for the Forest Service, began producing a tremendous quantity of Smokey Bear art in various media for special events, publications, and licensed products to promote the fire prevention symbol. Long after retiring, he created the art for the Smokey Bear's 40th anniversary commemorative U.S. Postage stamp. In Forest Service circles he is still know affectionately as "Smokey's artist."
     A significant chapter in Smokey's long history began early in 1950, when a burned cub survived a fire in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. Because this bear survived a terrible forest fire and won the love and imagination of the American public, many people mistakenly believe the cub was the original Smokey Bear, but in reality he did not come along until the advertising symbol was almost six years old.
     After being nursed back to health, Smokey came to live at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as a living counterpart to the CFFP Program's fire prevention symbol.
Smokey meets Hopalong Cassidy.     Over the years, thousands of people from around the world, including dignitaries and movie stars, came to see Smokey Bear at the National Zoo. A mate, Goldie, was introduced with the hope a young Smokey would continue the tradition of the famous living symbol. These efforts failed and an adopted son was sent to the zoo so the aged bear could retire on May 2, 1975.
     After many years of popularity, the original Smokey died in 1976. His remains were returned to Capitan and rest beneath a stone marker in Smokey Bear State Park. For more than 15 years, the adopted Smokey carried on as the living symbol, but in 1990, when the second Smokey Bear died, the living symbol was laid to rest.
     Smokey's task is becoming increasingly difficult. In years past, it was a challenge for his message to reach traditional visitors to the forest. Now we are faced with getting his wildfire prevention message to an increasing number of people who live in and around these areas. This "wildland-urban interface" poses a double threat; from people living in or near forests who may accidentally start fires that spread to the wildlands as well as from accidental fires started in the wild that spread to nearby residences. In either case, the result is potentially disastrous but especially tragic because it is preventable.
     The challenge continues as Smokey Bear passes the half-century mark and enters the new millennium. Demand for our natural resources continues to grow as does the population of forested areas. In the future, the need to prevent accidental wildfire will be greater than ever.

Smokey the Bear
Remember...only YOU can prevent forest fires!

Letter to the Editor

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Nature Notes
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
     -- John Muir, 1901

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