Buzzfeed News tried to show it was smarter than everyone when it comes to forest fires and the well-known mascot for preventing them, Smokey the Bear, by claiming the spokesbear’s campaign was actually bad for California.
Buzzfeed’s since-deleted tweet claimed Smokey advocated for wildfire suppression.
“Most experts now agree that a decades-long policy of suppressing fires in forests, a campaign fronted by Smokey Bear, was a bad idea,” the tweet said. “At best, it damaged ecosystems that need to burn from time to time. At worst, it created a tinderbox of unnaturally dense vegetation.”
The problem here is that Smokey the Bear didn’t advocate for wildfire suppression. He advocated for wildfire prevention, as evidenced by his wildly known catchphrase, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
The Buzzfeed tweet was part of a thread discussing the recent forest fires in California. After deleting the tweet, Buzzfeed put up an explanation.
“We’ve deleted this tweet. Smokey Bear fronts a campaign for wildfire prevention, not wildfire suppression,” the new tweet read.
“(And yes, his name is actually Smokey Bear),” Buzzfeed added, as if anyone cares that a federal mascot is a bear who also has the last name of Bear.
People on Twitter responded to the deleted tweet with the appropriate level of sarcasm.
TheWrap, which first reported on Buzzfeed’s mistake, explained that Smokey and his catchphrase have been around since 1944, and are as recognizable in the U.S. as Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse.
“Smokey the Bear was created by the U.S. Forest Service in 1944 as a way to help curb forrest [sic] fires while U.S. firefighters served in World War II,” TheWrap reported. “A 2014 ABC News report celebrating Smokey’s 70th birthday said that 96 percent of American’s recognized the bear, putting him in the same category as Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse.”
In 1950, a wildfire in New Mexico grew out of control. Thirty firefighters survived after being caught in the fire’s path by lying face down on a rockslide for an hour. Shortly before this, the crew was told there was a bear cub nearby. The firefighters survived, as did the bear cub, but his paws and hind legs were badly burned.
The cub was rescued and taken to a nearby ranch where his injuries were treated. After his story was spread across the country, the cub was taken to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and named Smokey Bear. He was the first living representation of the Forest Service’s mascot. He’s buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park, beneath a plaque that reads: "This is the resting place of the first living Smokey Bear ... the living symbol of wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation."
The first Smokey died in 1976. Smokey II, another orphaned bear cub, took on the living symbol role from 1975 until his death in 1990.