During World War II, Japanese submarines off of the Santa Barbara Coast fired shells making an oil field explode near the Los Padres National Forest. This created a fear in Americans. People were concerned that wildfire could be used as a war tactic in the forests off of the Pacific Coast. The Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program was created to bring light to wildfire prevention by reducing the number of human caused fires. Eventually, this program led to the creation of Smokey Bear as an influential wildfire prevention icon. Smokey is now recognized by 96% of adults – a recognition rate that is comparable to that of the President and Mickey Mouse!
Smokey Bear’s Involvement With Wildfire Prevention
In 1944, the CFFP program decided to use Bambi characters as symbols for fire prevention on a poster. Using the Disney animals as symbols for wildfire prevention was successful, so the U.S. Forest Service authorized CFFP to create its own animal symbol – Smokey Bear. Smokey’s first appearance was on a wildfire prevention poster in 1944. Initially, his catch phrase was “Smokey says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.” Then, his slogan changed to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” in 1947. By 1952, Smokey Bear was attracting commercial interest, so an Act of Congress removed him from public domain and placed him under the Secretary of Agriculture. The fees and royalties collected for the use of Smokey Bear are used for wildfire prevention education. Currently, Smokey’s catch phrase is, “Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires.”
The Smokey Bear Mascot
In 1950, a young bear cub sought refuge in a tree during a fire in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico. He was burned badly, so firefighters saved him. The bear cub’s touching story earned him the name ‘Smokey.’ The bear cub’s moving story gained a permanent home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. He became the living symbol of Smokey Bear. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1976. Smokey was buried in State Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico. Now, the park is named Smokey Bear Historical Park after his legacy.
Smokey Bear Fun Facts
• His name is Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear. This naming confusion came from a song written as an ode to Smokey, and the songwriters added ‘the’ to improve the rhythm.
• Smokey receives so many letters that he even has his own zip code – the President is the only other individual with his own zip code. Anyone can send a letter to Smokey Bear at “Smokey Bear, Washington, DC 20252.”
• He is a Disney Star! Smokey made an appearance in a Walt Disney movie In the Bag.
• Smokey Bear has a Twitter @smokey_bear