One of the greatest public service mascots of all time has to be our next guest. I can't remember a time when I didn't know about him. Though his message of "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" has changed to "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires", Smokey Bear is still there helping us protect our national forests.
Growing up in Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington State, I was always around large areas of forest. Even now, living in prairie Kansas, I miss everything about it. I miss that smell and sense of calm that only a forest can bring you. I miss seeing deer and bear in my backyard. I don't think there is much I don't miss about them. One of the things I miss the most though is Smokey Bear. I know he is still around and even has new commercials, but here in Kansas, there isn't a lot of need for them. My son barely knows who he is. For someone who grew up with the commercials, school visists, books, comic books, toys, and even cartoons, I think that's a shame.
Born in 1944, Smokey Bear, with his ranger's hat and shovel quickly got on the job. He wanted everyone to know the dangers of forest fires and what happens to the forest denizens when fires get out of control. He taught millions of us that it's important to care about what happens to the environment. The fact that he was one of the residents stuck with me in a way that a human telling me the same message wouldn't have. Because of Smokey, every time we went camping as a kid, I was the one that would make sure the campfire was completely out. I would dump buckets of water over it and for good measure, I would shovel dirt on top of water logged ashes.
I never forgot the lessons learned at the feet of Smokey Bear and I hope that kids everywhere are still learning them. He was the perfect mascot for the United States Forest Service and I hope that he has no plans to retire.