Saturday, August 16, 2008

Smokey the Bear

Last week I went to Tucson, Arizona for a short vacation and to meet a friend.
Well, I am also planning to move there soon so it was partly about getting to just see the area....anyway, I had a fabulous time and one of the places my friend, Michael, took me was up to Mt Lemmon. A beautiful place that goes from typical desert scenery to wonderful rock formations to a lush forest. It was like 3 places in one! The higher you travelled the more it changed.
Hmmm...I am getting a little off topic.
While on the mountain, we stopped at a gift shop run by the USDA Forest Service or something official and parky like that.
While I was looking around for something to buy, because I had to buy something, I saw a picture of Smokey the Bear.
WOW! I hadn't thought of Smokey since I was a kid.
Remember those PSA's by Smokey?
(cue the deep voice)"Only you can prevent forest fires!"
The gift shop had a coloring sheet for the kids with information on how Smokey came to be and a sheet with the Smokey the Bear song.
Who knew there was a Smokey the Bear song? Not I!
Needless to say, so I am saying it anyway, I had to get the sheets and I decided that it was absolutely necessary for me to write a blog on Smokey the Bear.
I wonder if the kids today ever hear about old Smokey?

To understand how Smokey Bear became associated with forest fire prevention, we must go back to World War II. On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. The following spring in 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the coast of Southern California and fired a salvo of shells that exploded on an oil field near Santa Barbara, very close to the Los Padres National Forest. Americans throughout the country were shocked by the news that the war had now been brought directly to the American mainland. There was concern that further attacks could bring a disastrous loss of life and destruction of property. There was also a fear that enemy incendiary shells exploding in the timber stands of the Pacific Coast could easily set off numerous raging forest fires. With experienced firefighters and other able-bodied men engaged in the armed forces, the home communities had to deal with the forest fires as best they could. Protection of these forests became a matter of national importance, and a new idea was born. If people could be urged to be more careful, perhaps some of the fires could be prevented. With this is in mind, the Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign with the help of the Wartime Advertising Council.
The Forest Service decided to find an animal that would belong to and speak for the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign. It was finally decided that the Nation's number one firefighter should be a bear. This bear was to have a short nose, be brown or black, and have a face that looked smart and friendly. They also wanted him to wear a ranger hat and blue jeans. They named him "Smokey" after "Smokey Joe" Martin, a fire chief form the New York City Fire Department.
On August 9, 1944, the first poster of Smokey Bear was prepared. The poster depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. Smokey Bear soon became popular, and his image began appearing on other posters and cards.
Until 1950, Smokey was just a character drawn on posters. Then one spring day in 1950 in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, an operator in one of the fire towers to the north of the Capitans spotted smoke and called the location into the nearest ranger station. The first crew discovered a major fire being swept along the ground between the trees, driven by a strong wind.
As soon as they contained the fire to one spot, the wind would push it across the lines. During one of the lulls in firefighting, a report of a lonely bear cub who had been seen wandering near the fireline was reported. The men left him alone because they thought the mother bear might come for him.
After the fire passed and the smoke cleared, the only living thing the firefighters saw was the little cub had been caught in the path of the fire. He had taken refuge in a tree that was now nothing but a charred smoking snag. His climb had saved his life but left him badly burned on the paws and hind legs.
The little bear cub was removed from the burned tree and a rancher, who had been helping the firefighters, agreed to take the cub home. A New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Ranger heard about the cub when he returned to the fire camp and drove to the rancher's home to get the bear. The cub needed veterinary aid and was flown in a small plane to Santa Fe where the burns were treated and bandaged.
The news about the little bear spread swiftly throughout New Mexico. Soon the press picked up the story and broadcast it nationwide. Many people wrote or called to inquire about the little bear's progress. The State Game Warden wrote an official letter to the Chief of the Forest Service, presenting the cub to the agency with the understanding that the small bear would be dedicated to a publicity program of fire prevention and conservation. The go-ahead was given to send the bear to Washington, DC, where he found a home at the National Zoo, becoming the living symbol of Smokey Bear.
In 1952, Smokey Bear had enough public recognition to attract commercial interest. An Act of Congress passed to take Smokey out of the public domain and place him under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture. The Act provided for the use of collected royalties and fees for continued education on forest fire prevention.
info found and mostly copied from

A Smokey the Bear PSA....I think it is from the 70's.


With a Ranger's hat and shovel
and a pair of dungarees,
you will find him in the forest
always sniffin' at the breeze.
People stop and pay attention
when he tells 'em to beware,
'cause ev'rybody knows that
he's the Fire Prevention Bear.

Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.
Prowlin' and a growlin' and a sniffin' the air.
He can find a fire before it starts to flame.
That's why they call him Smokey,
That was how he got his name.

You can take a tip from Smokey
that there's nothin' like a tree.
'cause they're good for kids to climb in
and they're beautiful to see,
you just have to look around you
and you'll find it's not a joke,
to see what you'd be missin'
if they all went up in smoke.

Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.
Prowlin' and a growlin' and a sniffin' the air.
He can find a fire before it starts to flame.
That's why they call him Smokey,
That was how he got his name.

You can camp upon his doorstep
and he'll make you feel at home;
You can run and hunt and ramble
anywhere you care to roam.
He will let you take his honey
and pretend he's not so smart,
but don't you harm his trees
for he's a Ranger in his heart.

Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.
Prowlin' and a growlin' and a sniffin' the air.
He can find a fire before it starts to flame.
That's why they call him Smokey,
That was how he got his name.

If you've ever seen the forest
when a fire is running wild,
and you love the things within it
like a mother loves her child,
then you know why Smokey tells you
when he sees you passing through,
"Remember...please be careful....
its the least that you can do."

Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.
Prowlin' and a growlin' and a sniffin' the air.
He can find a fire before it starts to flame.
That's why they call him Smokey,
That was how he got his name.

(to hear the tune go to NIEHS Kids Songs - Smokey the Bear )

written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, written under license of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to Hill and Range Songs, Inc., and recorded under license by RCA-Victor, Columbia, Decco, Peter Pan, and Golden Records. Copyright 1952 by Hill and Range Songs, Inc., New York, N.Y. International copyright secured. All rights reserved including the right of public performance for profit.

One commenter left a link on Smokey that I really love....>SMOKEY THE BEAR SUTRA BY GARY SNYDER

Smokey Bear Lesson Plans Various Grades

Lots of Fun Pages, Puzzles and other Smokey Bear stuff

NIEHS Kids Songs - Smokey the Bear

Forest Service Smokey Bear Site

Smokey Bear Park in Capitan, New Mexico


Michael said...

hmmm...I was unaware that the Japanese actually "shelled" California...I was under the belief that our "own forces" caused that fire "mistakenly" under the assumption there was a sub lurking off the coast...they also fired several vollies into the skies over Los Angeles that same night...uh, "our forces" did. To my knowledge, no Japanese sub was ever "verified".

I remember Smokie well...from my childhood in the 50's...never knew there was a song,

Thanks Lani!

La, Storyteller/Storysinger said...

I have no idea whether any of that stuff happened or not.
I wouldn't be surprised if your information were correct.
I admit that I got the info from the Smokey Bear website.
I suppose I could check it out.
I just might...eventually! :P

willow said...

Whoot La..I SAW one of these signs in my travels with K and went to take a pic of it and the camera batt. was dead!! I almost cried!! Very cool blog! Thanks!

Tim said...

My favorite take on Smokey Bear is by poet Gary Snyder: