Old bears don’t need new tricks

Published 10:26 pm Saturday, August 1, 2009

For a geriatric, fur-covered dude in a slick looking hat, Smokey Bear sure does get a lot accomplished.

Age hasn’t slowed him down a bit. Smokey turns 65 this year but don’t even think about retirement for him.

In fact, those in the know say Smokey is healthier than ever. Just ask Gary Chancey, longtime friend and confidant of Smokey.

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“Smokey Bear is the center of the longest-running public service advertising (PSA) campaign in U.S. history,” said, Chancey, public affairs officer for the Wayne National Forest.

“Since 1944, he has been communicating his well-known message, ‘Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.’ In 2001, the term ‘wildfires’ was introduced to include all unwanted, unplanned fires in natural areas such as grass fires or brush fires. The Smokey Bear campaign is a critical tool specially designed to ask for every citizen’s conscientious commitment to be responsible with fire.”

Ohio and the Wayne have a open burn ban in the months of March, April, May, October and November. There is no burning between 6 a.m and 6 p.m.

Chancey and other forest officials are adamant that during that time of the year, the forest and surrounding communities are most vulnerable due to the change of seasons.

“The green up hasn’t quite happened and temperatures have begun to warm up, drying out vegetation,” he said. “The winds begin to kickup during that time of the year as well.”

Here in southern Ohio and all of the Tri-State our natural assets are something that certainly need to be protected.

Nothing is worse than visiting a scenic copse of trees on a sunlit hillside, only to have the beauty arrested by trash and a former campsite that wasn’t properly cleaned up.

Or here’s another scenario: You hike out to a well-known rock formation to marvel at the wonders of Mother Nature only be horrified upon arrival because some idiots have carved their name into the stone, spray painted “L.M. loves S.R.” or some other nonsense like that.

Sound familiar? It should as this basically happens at the Rock House at Lake Vesuvius all the time, greatly diminishing what is an otherwise magnificent structure.

So if it takes a dressed-up bear who has his species confused with his last name to get people’s attention and raise awareness, then so be it.

“Smokey Bear’s message about wildfire prevention has helped to reduce the number of acres burned annually by wildfires, from about 22 million (in 1944) to an average of 7 million today,” Chancey said. “Many Americans believe that lightning starts most wildfires. In fact, on average, nine out of 10 wildfires nationwide are caused by people.”

So Happy Birthday Smokey! Apparently, YOU really can prevent forest fires. Hopefully, we can too. Keep up the good work.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.