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ENN News Story - Smokey Bear's squirrelly sister

Smokey Bear's squirrelly sister

Wednesday, September 03, 2003
By Jennifer Snelling, E/The Environmental Magazine

In the summer of 2002, amidst the worst fire season on record, an editorial cartoon ran in many papers across the country showing an indignant Smokey Bear, one paw wrapped around a mug of beer, the other pounding the bar.

"Fifty years Iíve given themÖ. So fire suppression didnít work out Ö but to be replaced by a freakin' squirrel???" On a billboard outside, a cheeky squirrel dressed in work boots gives the thumbs up and a new message: "Forest fires happen. Be ready!"

Meet Reddy, the girl squirrel. Reddy was the brainchild of Mark Blaine, editor of Forest Magazine, which is published by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE). Blaine needed an activist advertisement to fill space in his magazine. Armed with studies suggesting that Smokey is full of, well, smoke, he created a fire mascot with a new attitude.

Blaine and Andy Stahl, executive director of FSEEE, say that decades of fire suppression by the Forest Service have led to the build-up of deadwood and underbrush below the forest canopy, providing the perfect fuel for a fire season that saw more than 5.7 million acres and 2,500 homes destroyed.

"Wildfires are natural occurrences," said Blaine. "The problem comes when houses are built near the forest."

U.S. Forest Service scientist Jack Cohen has shown that 85 to 95 percent of houses burned in wildfires could have been saved with a few simple precautions. Cohen's research suggests that what owners do within 100 feet of their homes has the most effect on whether those homes burn when a wildfire passes through.

Reddy, who wears a hardhat and carries a rake, encourages homeowners to trim low-hanging branches and clear brush around their homes. Preparation, says Reddy, not prevention, is the key.

Reddy, who cost her creators just $45, made her debut as the Forest Service was unveiling a new $100,000 campaign for Smokey Bear, changing his message from "Only you can prevent forest fires" to "Only you can prevent wildfires."

The Forest Service issued a statement regarding Reddy: "Smokey Bear is, by law, America's icon for wildfire prevention."

Stahl, who has handled most of Reddyís press, was invited on CNN for a Sunday afternoon Smokey versus Reddy grudge match.

"We donít want to get rid of Smokey," said Blaine. "But Reddy has a new message for a new generation. She's a fire mascot who understands forest ecology."

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