Off-road group says Smokey Bear is unfair
WASHINGTON, Colorado ” A group that advocates motorized recreation is asking the Forest Service to withdraw a public service ad featuring Smokey Bear. The group says the ad sends the wrong message that riders operating off-road vehicles in a legal manner can start forest fires.
In the ad, Smokey Bear tells two ATV riders not to start their vehicles in a national forest.
“ATVs give off sparks. You could start a wildfire,” Smokey tells them. As the young men apologize and push their vehicles away, a narrator warns that nine out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans.
The BlueRibbon Coalition, an Idaho-based group that advocates for off-road vehicles, called the ad misleading and unfair.
“Smokey Bear is inappropriately telling members of the motorized trail community that the best way for them to prevent wildfires is to just stay home,” said Don Amador, the group’s Western representative.
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The group wrote letters urging the Forest Service and the Ad Council, which produced the 30-second spot, to withdraw the ad.
Joe Walsh, a spokesman for the Forest Service, said the agency was aware of the complaints and apologized for any confusion. The ads are under review, he said.
Jim Bedwell, director of recreation for the Forest Service, said the ad was not intended to say that all ATV use causes fires. “The intent was to say that fire prevention is always important, especially at a time of high fire danger, as was indicated in the ad,” he said.
The Forest Service supports the responsible use of ATVs on public land and works closely with off-road enthusiasts, Bedwell said.
But Amador said the new ad ” which began airing nationwide last month ” implies that ATV riders could start forest fires merely by using their vehicles in a legal manner. ATV riders must use Forest Service-approved spark arresters when operating off-road on public lands.
Amador said his group supports the use of spark-arresters ” which restrict sparks from escaping an exhaust system ” on public and private lands. The ad should have focused on encouraging ATV riders to use proper exhaust systems and stay on designated routes, he said.
Amador called the ad particularly unfortunate at a time when the Forest Service and other land-use agencies are encouraging young people to set aside video games and other indoor activities and enjoy the great outdoors.
More than 11 million visitors rode off-road vehicles in national forests last year. While most used designated trails, others churned up forest floors blazing their own trails. Such use damages root systems and accelerates erosion, leaving lasting scars on the landscape.
Widespread abuse of forest trails has prompted a backlash among some hiking groups and other recreation activists. But Amador said it was unfair to punish all ATV riders for the actions of a few.