Smokey Bear at 80: Wildfire Prevention campaign marks milestone

July 8, 2024

The longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history: Celebrating Smokey Bear

Created in 1944, the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history.

For eight decades, it has educated generations of Americans about their role in preventing wildfires.

Smokey Bear, one of the world’s most recognizable characters, symbolizes wildfire prevention and is protected by U.S. federal law.

The USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council administer his image.

Smokey Bear’s original catchphrase was “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.” In 1947, it changed to “Remember…

Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” In 2001, the phrase evolved to its current version, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,” reflecting a broader focus on preventing all unwanted and unplanned outdoor fires.

The origins of Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear’s association with wildfire prevention began during World War II.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequent shelling near Santa Barbara, California, fear of incendiary attacks causing wildfires grew.

With many firefighters serving in the war, communities faced the challenge of preventing and managing wildfires.

The Forest Service launched the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program with the War Advertising Council and the Association of State Foresters.

Early slogans like “Forest Fires Aid the Enemy” highlighted the national importance of preventing wildfires.

In 1942, Disney’s “Bambi” helped promote wildfire prevention.

The CFFP used characters from the film on posters, demonstrating the effectiveness of using animals to convey their message.

However, Disney’s characters were only available for a year, leading to the creation of Smokey Bear.

On August 9, 1944, the Forest Service authorized Smokey Bear, with the first poster featuring him dousing a campfire.

Smokey Bear’s enduring message

Over the years, Smokey Bear’s image has appeared on numerous posters and materials, becoming a beloved symbol of wildfire prevention.

In 1952, Congress passed an Act removing Smokey from the public domain, placing him under the Secretary of Agriculture’s control, and ensuring funds from royalties supported ongoing wildfire prevention education.

Despite the campaign’s long history, wildfire prevention remains a critical issue.

The Forest Service reports that over 80 percent of wildfires are caused by human activity.

Smokey Bear’s message, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,” continues to be relevant, reminding the public of their responsibility in preventing wildfires.

Ongoing efforts and the future of wildfire prevention

As Smokey Bear celebrates his 80th birthday on August 9th 2024, the Forest Service and its partners continue to emphasize the importance of wildfire prevention.

Various events and initiatives throughout the year engage the public and reinforce Smokey’s message.

The goal is to maintain awareness and encourage responsible behavior to protect forests and grasslands from wildfires.

The celebration of Smokey Bear’s 80th birthday is not just about honoring a long-standing campaign; it is a reminder of the ongoing efforts needed to address the causes of wildfires.

By involving communities and using modern platforms like social media, Smokey Bear’s message reaches new generations, ensuring that the importance of wildfire prevention remains at the forefront.

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