Does Smokey Bear still matter? |

Does Smokey Bear still matter?

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailySmokey the Bear, the longtime forest-fire prevention spokesanimal, stands weather worn Wednesday at an Avon roundabout, reporting the fire danger to passing motorists.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Penny Boucher wants to know, “Where’s Smokey?”

She’s referring to Smokey Bear, perhaps the only bear in the world with the opposable thumbs necessary to carry a shovel and dump dirt on a fire.

Smokey is the hat-wearing, denim clad spokesanimal for our nation’s woodlands; the sometimes cheerful, sometimes serious looking bear who’s been saying since 1944, sometimes with a furry finger pointed our way like the eager Uncle Sam, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

Note: forest fires became ‘wildfires’ in 2001.

The question “Where’s Smokey?” though refers to what Boucher, an Eagle resident, sees as a lull in our country’s longest public service campaign ever. With wildfires such a presence in the news the past couple weeks, as they are every year during the dry summer ” and considering the reported success of the Smokey campaign in reducing forest fires ” perhaps it’s an appropriate question.

Do you notice Smokey like you used to? Do you see his public service announcements on television? Do you see his face at trail heads and camp grounds? When was the last time you saw Smokey show up at a ribbon cutting? Or are we too old to notice or care?

“I can’t remember the last time I saw Smokey the Bear on TV,” Boucher said. “I loved Smokey when I was a kid.”

Smokey has certainly maintained his grass-roots influence. He’s still a creature of outdoor festivals, parades and summer education programs ” a creature of the people. That’s why there’s a good chance your child knows who Smokey is.

Smokey, in 6-foot-tall football mascot form, visits kids at Golden Peak and Lionshead in Vail every week during the winter, said Corey Myers, a visitor information specialist with the Holy Cross Ranger District.

He hangs out with boy scouts and teaches kids at day camps. Smokey also will likely be seen at the Fourth of July parade in Minturn, perhaps even riding a fire truck. He’s still called to duty in public schools.

Sally Spaulding, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said the image of Smokey is still sort of a brand logo for the agency and can be seen on all sorts of souvenirs and merchandise.

There are usually Smokey sections in gift shops, and it’s not unheard of for a parent to spend more than $100 on Smokey memorabilia, said Tim Spivey, the visitor information specialist for the Dillon Ranger District.

Mike Miller and his three kids, all visiting from Denver for a weekend of hiking in the Minturn area, were all quite familiar with the bear and his message. Even the youngest, May, who just finished kindergarten, learned fire safety from the bear.

“Put out your fires!” May says in a commanding voice.

So, even the young ones will have Smokey memories as an adult.

“He’s certainly still there, spreading the message, but you don’t see him on TV like you used to,” Myers said.

The perception though that Smokey isn’t on TV anymore isn’t true. His public service announcements are still seen around the clock on stations like CNN and the Cartoon Network.

It’s just that these days, there are so many places to get your news and entertainment and it might be more difficult to catch a Smokey ad, said Wendy Moniz, a vice president campaign director for the Ad Council.

“The difference is when I was growing up there were just three stations,” Moniz said. “It’s much more spread out now.”

So, many adults might be remembering the pre-cable world of network television. Also, the newest line of Smokey PSAs are a lot more suggestive than they used to be and don’t feature the big bear and thundering voice-overs reminding us of our campground responsibilities. Check some out at The only time you see Smokey in these new ones is a flash of his likeness at the end.

“People may not realize they’re seeing a Smokey ad,” Moniz said.

The Ad Council recently reworked its Smokey Bear campaign and is now targeting 25 to 34 year olds and teenagers ” those younger kids are still getting plenty of him in classrooms.

Start looking for a a Smokey Bear MySpace page and Smokey Bear ring tones. It’s a hip way to reach out, much like the Smokey Bear radio PSAs featuring the Grateful Dead, Cheech and Chong, Ray Charles, B.B. King and the rock ‘n’ roll king of wildlife himself, Ted Nugent.

So, it looks like Smokey can in fact have a big impact. Just ask Spivey, who, after several years in the military, signed up for the forest service with his old bear friend in mind.

“I wanted to work for the forest service because of Smokey, and my goal was to fulfill that childhood dream,” Spivey said.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

You can read more Smokey Bear history at

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