UPDATED January 7, 2012. Scroll to the bottom to see how Wildfire Today was called the “balloon lobby” by Senator McConnell’s Chief of Staff.
The Smokey Bear hot air balloon has been flying over crowds of people since its first public voyage in 1993 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. In 2012 the U.S. government spent $31,000 to help the aerial image of Smokey appear at venues across the country.
Most of the $200,000 annual budget for the 97-foot tall balloon comes from sponsorship and donations.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to permanently ground it, saying on Thursday at the opening day of the new Congress:
…If we can’t stop spending taxpayer dollars on robo-squirrels, and dancing robot DJ’s or hot air balloon rides for Smokey the Bear, then there’s no hope at all.
Here is an excerpt from an article at krqe.com:
New Mexico State Forestry spokesperson Dan Ware says the balloon ultimately pays for itself.
“The balloon much like Smokey Bear himself is a symbol and it’s a teaching tool,” Ware said. “It’s an intangible. If one wildfire isn’t caused because someone remembers the message of Smokey Bear from when they were a child or when they were an adult, if one person contributes to not causing a human-caused wildfire then I think it’s worth it.”
McConnell isn’t the first GOP senator to be critical of the balloon. In his annual “Waste Book”, Sen. Tom Coburn (R – OK) listed the $31,000 in federal funding spent on the Smokey Bear Balloon in 2012 as a needless cost, saying the money would be better spent towards more DC-10 tankers to fight wildfires.
If we can assume that Smokey Bear actually does help to prevent forest fires, then an annual budget of $31,000 is an extremely good investment, and is about equal to three hours of flight time for a BAe-146 air tanker or 1.5 hours for a DC-10.
UPDATE, January 7, 2012:
Our January 4 tweet about Senator Mitch McConnell’s desire to permanently ground the Smokey balloon got the attention of Josh Holmes, apparently the same Josh Holmes who is Senator McConnell’s Chief of Staff. Mr. Holmes appears to be calling Wildfire Today the “balloon lobby”.
Mr. Holmes’ Twitter photo is similar to the photo on the Josh Holmes LinkedIn page where is is identified as “Chief of Staff at U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, Washington D.C.” as you can see below:
The Washington Post has more information about Mr. Holmes.