Smokey Bear has been fighting forest fires since 1944.
The original Smokey Bear was an advertising image created by the Forest Service and the Advertising Council. But there also was a real Smokey. He was a badly burned bear cub, found by forest rangers May 9, 1950 in the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, clinging to a blackened treetop after a fire. This is part of the image that appears on this postage stamp.
The cub was nursed back to health, and took up residence at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. He lived there until he died of old age in 1976. His body was returned to New Mexico and buried at Smokey Bear Historical Park at Capitan, N.M.
Unfortunately, Smokey didn't realize that oftentimes fires are a natural part of Nature's processes.
As Nature Conservancy fire ecologist Robin Wills says, "Our planet was born out of fire and has evolved with fire. Across the eons, plant and animal communities have adapted to cycles of repeated and varied burns, and many native species have become dependent on fire." Examples include the Giant Sequoia of the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, and in fact many of California's native ecosystem ssuch as the chaparral.
With Smokey's encouragement, people have drastically altered the natural process of fire. By suppresing wildfires everywhere, whenever they occured, the result is not less forest firest, but rather an increase of fuel loads and hotter, more disastrous fires.
Lack of natural fires results in declining habitat quality for wildlife, and the disappearance of fire-dependent native species, and often an explosion of weed populations.
So, it is time for Smokey to have a new mission: to restore the natural fire regime.
That won't be easy. Because of the build-up of fuel, we cannot just let fires burn. We need to incorporate active fire management. In some wild areas where fire won't damage human property, we can let fires burn. In other areas, we can use techniques like "prescribed burning" which actually sets fire to an area under controlled conditions to emulate the natural processes of nature. Prescribed burning will help to suppress exotic species and encourage regrowth of native plants.
So, Smokey, we hope you will lead the effort to bring a greater understanding of the proper role of fire in Nature! Don't try to stamp it out entirely, just manage it so it won't cause undue harm to property or people, while restoring natural ecosystems which are dependent upon fire.
|First Day Cover by stamp designer Rudolph Wendelin|
|First Day Cover with John Muir Stamp|
Return to Environmentalists on Stamps
Home | Publications | Links | Authors | Earth Songs | Environmental Holidays | Environmentalists on Stamps
This page is maintained by Harold Wood.
E-mail: harold (at) planetpatriot.net
Last update: October 24, 1999