WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Remember- only you can prevent wildfires” is the historic message Smokey Bear has communicated to the US public. The Smokey prevention campaign was created in 1944, incorporating the respect, fear and love for the native black bear species that inspired his design. A few years later, in 1950, an injured black bear cub was rescued from a fire on the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico and became the living symbol of longstanding wildfire prevention outreach. 2019 marked the 75th year of Smokey Bear as the famous public service announcement ambassador of wildfire prevention in the United States. Last month, he also carried the wildfire prevention message internationally, traveling as far as Armenia, Belarus and Brazil.
In Armenia, Smokey helped roll out a multi-year program of collaboration on wildfire management between the government of Armenia and the USDA Forest Service. Along with the U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy and representatives from the USDA Forest Service, Smokey shared best practices in wildfire prevention programming with Armenian government officials and discussed which of these might be relevant for adaption to the Armenia context. Smokey also met a wide range of civil society stakeholders, members of the public and schoolchildren to share his prevention messages.
In Belarus, Smokey Bear was accompanied by Leslie Swada, director of the USDA Forest Service Southeast Alaska Discovery Center as part of US Embassy—Minsk’s Embassy Speakers Program. The team shared examples of successful wildfire prevention messaging and best practices for conservation education and youth engagement programs with students and government officials at universities, local schools, libraries and museums around Minsk and at Naliboki Forest and Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve.
During his trip to Brazil, Smokey joined other wildfire prevention ambassadors at the 7th International Wildland Fire Conference. The conference brought together professionals of all nationalities to debate and disseminate work on fire management and forest fire control. Gwen Beavans, USDA Forest Service Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation branch chief, accompanied Smokey and shared the history and success of a national wildfire prevention program. Perhaps the highlight for Smokey was meeting Brazilian firefighters and recognizing local youth for wildfire prevention posters they created for the event. Several USDA Forest Service staff attended the international conference alongside Smokey, including International Programs Latin America and Caribbean team members, Renee Jack and Jayleen Vera, who dialogued with partners on how to best collaborate on fire management in the region. The USDA Forest Service collaborates with partners on not only wildfire prevention, but strengthens community and institutional capacity for fire management, fire applications of the incident command system, supporting women in fire management, and specialized training such as fire investigation and prescribed fire.