The “Smokey Bear Effect”
Smokey Bear was created by the U.S. Forest Service in an attempt to prevent forest fires — and it worked too well. By preventing the small fires that were part of how forests functioned (clearing out underbrush and small trees), the “Smokey Bear Effect” is causing massive, forest-destroying fires that eradicate large forests. In this short video, NPR explores the effect — and how we must accept small fires as an integral part of the life of forests.
Representative quote: “For a hundred years, we’ve been very good at suppressing [forest fires]. And now, we’re reaping that fiery maelstrom — we have fires now we can’t stop! And they’re going to continue to burn…until there isn’t a whole lot left to burn.” -William Armstrong, Fire Manager, U.S. Forest Service. Even Smokey Bear himself agrees — total fire suppression is a recipe for disaster, and small fires “clean” the forest. Check it out:
This video is part of a five-part series.
If you’re interested in forest policy, check out Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, in which the author attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail, with long digressions on the history of the U.S. Forest Service.
See also: How Smokey Bear Helped Win World War II, Smokey Bear is no friend to the redwood tree, 3 Things You Might Not Know About Smokey Bear, and 5 Fictional Bears and Whether They’d Kill You. Also, just to clear things up about Smokey’s name, he’s technically “Smokey Bear,” though “Smokey the Bear” is an acceptable alternative that became popular in the 1950s.