Bear Hug! It's Smokey Bear's Birthday and He Has a Request For You

Smokey Bear now gives out bear hugs to those who prevent wildfires. | Photo: Screenshot of Ad Council commercial.

The six or so major wildfires burning in California right now should be a good reminder to always be fire safe when out and about in nature, especially during these extremely dry years. Granted, sometimes these are caused by natural causes like lighting, but a lot of times not.

That's why Smokey Bear on his 69th birthday -- he almost died two years ago -- wants everyone to take his pledge, which is really a set of common sense ways when being outdoors:

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  • Use caution and common sense before lighting any fire.
  • Understand that any fire I or my friends create could become a wildfire.
  • Understand and practice proper guidelines whenever I or my friends create a fire outdoors.
  • Nnever, ever leave any fire unattended.
  • Make sure any fire that I or my friends create is properly and completely extinguished before moving on.
  • Properly extinguish and discard of smoking materials.
  • Be aware of my surroundings and be careful when operating equipment during periods of dry or hot weather.
  • Speak up and step in when I see someone in danger of starting a wildfire.

And if you hadn't noticed yet, Smokey got an branding upgrade this summer. He's become less about finger pointing and more about hugs -- as in bear hugs. "Smokey is changing from a teacher or authority figure into a paragon of positive reinforcement," reported the New York Times in July. "To underscore the shift, Smokey will now hug people in the wilderness who demonstrate they know how to avoid causing fires."

The problem wasn't that people didn't recognize Smokey, it was that the public, notably the 18 to 34 age group, didn't recognize what he actually wanted them to do. Preventing wildfires is one thing, but the best practices behind that were not being communicated effectively, hence the pledge. And if you take that pledge and apply it, well, you might just get the biggest, best hug of your life.

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About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCETLink's Editor-in-Chief of Blogs, where he oversees website editorial and advises on projects. When he does write, he mostly covers local government, environment, and the outdoors.
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