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Ruidoso, New Mexico

Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear Statue
Statue of Smokey Bear cub caught in fire

Around the time of World War II, people began to realize the importance of our forest resources, and the role they played in the war effort. As a result of this, the USDA Forest Service formed the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention program (CFFP) in 1942. At the time, the Forest Service asked the War Advertising Council for assistance in spreading the word about the importance of preventing forest fires. The Smokey Bear symbol is what resulted. Although Rudy Wendelin is known for creating Smokey Bear on paper with his artwork, there was a real Smokey Bear, who lived in the National Zoo in Washington D.C. The bear, as a cub, was saved after surviving a terrible forest fire in early 1950. Many people believe that this cub is what started the Smokey Bear campaign, but in actuality, the Smokey Bear symbol was created about six years before the cub was found. The badly burned bear cub was nursed backed to health and served as the living symbol of Smokey until his retirement on May 2, 1972. At this time , another bear took over as the living symbol of Smokey until it's death in 1990. The Smokey Bear image became so popular that in 1952 congress passed a "Smokey Bear Act" disallowing the misuse of the symbol. The Forest Service now collects royalties on any product bearing the symbol, which they use to further their fire prevention campaign. In 1952 Ideal Toys produced a Smokey Bear toy, that came with an application to become a Junior Fire Ranger. In the first three years the toy was on the market, more than 500,000 children responded. By 1955 Smokey was receiving so much mail he was given his own zip code.

Smokey Bear fire prevention sign

Today we understand that fire plays an important role in nature. Although careless fires created by humans can prove disastrous, controlled burns by licensed professionals play an important part in maintaining our wild ecosystems.

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