Senate Minority Leader wants to eliminate the Smokey Bear balloon

Smokey Bear hot air balloon
Smokey Bear hot air balloon. Photo from Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon Facebook page

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

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.

For more information about the Smokey Bear hot air balloon, check out the Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon web site or Facebook page.

Smokey Bear balloon at Sturgis motorcycle rally
The Smokey Bear balloon is launched at the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Pilot: Bill Chapel, Chase Truck: Dallas and Carol Griner. Helpers: Boxelder Job Corps students. Photo by Karen Wattenmaker.

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”.

Josh Holmes' tweet, "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:

Josh Holmes LinkedIn

The Washington Post has more information about Mr. Holmes.

New Smokey Bear video and mobile apps

There is some new Smokey Bear stuff out there. One is the video below, which was posted on Smokey’s YouTube page three days ago.

Also new:

Here is a screen shot of the mobile web site, which is identical in appearance to the mobile Android app.

Smokey Bear mobile site

I downloaded the Android app. It contains some good information, has a pleasing appearance, and it works fairly well, but has a couple of confusing design quirks. When you are on any page in the app, there is a large bar across the top that says “Back”. This, of course, takes you to the previous page within the app, but it remains there when you’re on the home page for the app, which looks like a secondary page. Touching it then exits the app.

The home page says “Campfire Safety”, which seems like it should be a sub-heading within the app. Four of the nine large buttons on the home page refer to campfire topics, while the other five are unrelated.

The Android Smokey Bear app is a good first effort, but needs a few tweaks. I would give it three out of five stars.

Smokey Bear mobile site QR
Scan this with a smart phone to go to Smokey's mobile site

Create a Smokey Bear Jack O’Lantern

Would you like to have Smokey Bear looking out at your trick or treaters from a Halloween Jack O’Lantern?  Here’s how, thanks to the Virginia Department of Forestry:
Print this stencil, which looks like this, below:

smokey stencil halloween


Option #1

  1. Cut out the “black pieces” from the stencil sheet, using an x-acto knife or similar tool.
  2. Tape stencil sheet onto pumpkin.
  3. Use a fine-line marker and draw the image ‘through the holes” onto the pumpkin.
  4. Cut these pieces away from the pumpkin.

Or, Option #2

  1. Tape the stencil onto the pumpkin.
  2. Using a pin or other sharp tipped tool “pin-prick” the edge of all the black portions of the stencil.
  3. Remove the stencil, and connect the dots/pin-pricks with a marker.
  4. Cut these pieces away from the pumpkin.

5. Send us a photo of your result. (We will post some of them.)

New Smokey Bear video

Smokey Bear poster

The Advertising Council, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Association of State Foresters released today a new Smokey Bear advertising campaign. It includes the poster above, the video below, radio PSAs, and an educational DVD. The announcement is a little ahead of the Smokey Bear web site and his Facebook page, which will probably have more details later.

The video is about 8 minutes long. It is animated and is directed at children, educating them about campfire safety.

The video is pretty good, and will probably be effective for the intended audience, young children.

Sam Elliott
Sam Elliott
But I was disappointed that the voice of Smokey is no longer Sam Elliott,

who took over the role as Smokey’s voice in June, 2008 when a new series of PSAs was launched. One of Elliott’s first PSAs was cancelled after a controversy about the use of ATVs in the forest, but his voice was used in other videos. Washington D.C. radio station WMAL personality Jackson Weaver served as Smokey’s voice until his death in 1992. The voice was then silent until Elliott resurrected it in 2008.

Information about the 2009 Smokey Bear campaign.

I crushed someone’s childhood memory of Smokey Bear yesterday

On November 24 when I was working on installing the new Wildfire Fighter game on my iTouch, I exchanged a phone call and some emails with the company that produced it, and also with Chris Skaggs, the lead developer of the software. With Mr. Skaggs’ permission, here are copies of some of the emails. All were on November 24:


From Chris, forwarded to me by someone at the company that produced the game:

My dad was a career firefighter captain in Lake Arrowhead, CA – a resort town not far from LA. And every year we went through wildfire season where some pretty massive fires ripped through those mountains. SO I grew up with a constant awareness of the risks and dangers of wildfires as they regularly threatened my home and we had to evacuate several times as fires got within a mile or two of my home. In fact, the real Smokey bear was a bear cub found in a burnt out tree after the great Bear Fire – he was found about 10 miles from my house.


From me, to someone at the company that produced the game with whom I had been talking:

Thanks- But you might pass along to Mr. Scaggs that Smokey Bear was found in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico.

From someone at the company that produced the game, to Chris:

Do you have any comment? He is calling you out on smokey bear knowledge!~ You might give him an email to say hi. He wrote about you in a good way earlier today. 🙂

From Chris to me:

Dude – I called my dad and I’ve basically been wrong my whole life. 🙂

But there’s a good reason…

I grew up right next to the Children’s Forest in the San Bernardino mountains. (
This site was built in the wake of the Great Bear Fire in 1970…but that fire was not named after Smokey Bear (which is what I’d always thought) but after Bear Creek and/or the nearby town of Big Bear (depending on who you ask).

There is a painting of Smokey Bear clasping the stump he was found on in that area and somewhere in my 5 year old mind I got the two stories put together and nobody ever corrected me until today…then again, I don’t know that I ever talked about it to anybody before now either…

So Mr. Gabbert appears to be spot on…and a precious childhood memory lay shattered in the ashes. 😉

BUT – all the other stuff is true…I think…pretty much… 😉

When I asked Chris for permission to print the story, he replied:


Feel free to print my story. Please let me know when/where I can see it. My dad would really get a kick out of that.