“Don’t want to start a wildfire, right?” are the last words in the USFS’s latest advertisement featuring Smokey Bear. Well, sort of.
While Smokey Bear does make an appearance, it’s not as a tangible being. Instead, Smokey seems to have become an omnipresent entity that can take over the bodies of humans in order to tell others how to not start wildfires.
The “Smokey Is Within” ad campaign shows the spirit of Smokey taking over two women: one attending a camp outing telling her friends how to properly douse a campfire, and another hiking on the side of a road who instructs a driver on how to not drag his trailer’s chains.
Numerous boreal forests across the U.S. are still reckoning with Smokey’s legacy of fire suppression. Forest managers, including the USFS itself, have confirmed that a century of fire suppression is the root cause of the increased fuel loads and more intense wildfires we see today.
However, the vast majority of wildfires are still caused by humans — often in exactly the ways demonstrated in the advertisements. Smokey’s pivot toward personal responsibility, rather than bashing a living history of prescribed fires, might be a step in the right direction for the problematic bear.