Smokey Bear revamps message, faces competition from rival

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Smokey Bear is back on the scene with a new message geared toward adults, but the lovable World War II-era icon of forest fire prevention has a new rival.

Creators of the 58-year-old mascot revamped Smokey's kid-friendly message after studies found average adults didn't think they would ever start a wildfire. Most also believed wildfires occur hundreds of miles from population centers, although the movement of people toward the wild has changed that.

Smokey's signature phrase, "Only you can prevent forest fires," has also been changed. "Forest fires" was replaced by "wildfires" to reflect the rising dangers faced by homeowners living closer than before to areas that half a century ago were considered wild.

But Smokey's new message does not go far enough for the creators of the chipper Reddy Squirrel, a new mascot who brandishes a rake and warns rural homeowners to be prepared for the flames that may be inevitable.

His startling slogan: "No one can prevent forest fires. Be ready!"

The alternative mascot makes his debut Sept. 1 in "Forest Magazine," a monthly publication of the nonprofit Forest Service employees group.

"Smokey said only you can prevent forest fires, but we can't prevent forest fires," said Bob Dale of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, the group that created the cheeky mascot. "They're going to happen and they're especially going to happen if people build in these urban-wildland interface areas."

Dale and his group believe that decades of fire suppression by the Forest Service led to the build-up of deadwood and underbrush below the forest canopy, providing the perfect fuel for the massive fires now scorching the West. The best thing homeowners can do now is focus on preparation, not prevention, he said.

Smokey's new campaign stresses the idea of "good fire" vs. "bad fire" and even discusses the benefits of lighting controlled fires to thin forests ripe for ignition -- a deviation from Smokey's original creed.

The site also reminds viewers that despite prevention efforts, an average of 900 homes are destroyed each year by wildfires. By taking steps such as thinning trees, mowing the lawn and using stucco and tile building materials, homeowners can increase the chances their house will survive a blaze, the site says.

About 5.7 million acres have burned this fire season, one of the worst seasons in memory, torching nearly 2,500 homes and other structures and costing the federal government more than $1 billion, said Will Williamson, spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

On the Net

Smokey Bear:

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics:

Wildland Fire Role and Use Message:

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