Smokey Bear turns 75: How a New Mexico bear cub became an icon
July 20, 2019 06:53 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 75 years ago, a heartbreaking image captured the imagination of Americans from coast to coast.
"A baby cub that was injured from a wildfire, a little burnt from a wildfire that took place on the Capitan Mountain range," said Manuel Martinez with the Cibola National Forest.
The little New Mexico cub was named Smokey, and so began the persona that many of us know so well.
The slogan is even more recognizable, but it has changed over the years.
"Only you can prevent forest fires. Now that message has changed – only you can prevent wildfires," Martinez said.
He said the original mission to stop every single forest fire actually ended up making forest fires worse over the years.
"It's just led to lots more growth of fuels and fuel loading in our forests by putting those fires out and not letting them take their natural course," Martinez said.
He said the U.S. Forest Service's modern approach allows some lightning-started fires to burn, which in turn, clean up dead and down forest debris.
In fact, prescribed burns are made for the very same reason. Cleaner forest floors result in less catastrophic fires.
Still, Smokey needs help.
"People just need to be a little more diligent on where they go camp and how they build fires in the woods," Martinez said. "To make sure they put those fires out because those are the fires we don't want – human-caused fires."
Updated: July 20, 2019 06:53 PM
Created: July 20, 2019 05:17 PM
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