Redux: Wildfire

“Let him retire with dignity.”
Stephen Pyne, Arizona State University
Scholar of forest fire history

The “him” in this case is Smokey the Bear, whose prevention on fire prevention is dated, according to Pyne. 

Who knew there was an academic discipline in forest fire history?  Or so many folks with something to say about Smokey?

Besides me, I mean.

But the article is worth a visit, as is the adjacent/associated piece, Slogan’s Heroes, if only for this tagline:

When the federal government gets into cartooning, you know there’s trouble.

6 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    Hmmm…. I think there’s a flaw in Pyne’s reasoning, but I’m not sure what it is. Some kind of discontinuity between micro and macro, specific and general. Smokey reduced wildfires by 40,000; reduced the acreage burned by a half or more…. Presumably, the number of naturally caused wildfires (lightning, etc.) did not decrease in that period. So most of that reduction must have been human-caused fires.
    Humans are a new factor in the forest fire equation. We cause fires, by carelessness, campfires, cigarette butts, etc. We also alter the environment by building into forest zones. So wouldn’t it seem reasonable that humans should also try to put out fires, especially those we cause directly?
    Where does one draw the line between two kinds of responsibility?
    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Yes, Pyne’s comments struck me a bit like the nutritionists years ago who decided not to try to communicate with the general public about the distinction between healthy and unhealthy fats (and some members of those categories have moved since then). I figure we’re smart enough to understand that it’s likely bad to have humans cause fires by accident, but can be good for forest managers to do controlled burns, thereby preventing catastrophic fires when lightning does strike, as it were. He does go on to suggest using the two new cubs in the cartoons to illustrate the two kinds of fire – maybe he just doesn’t like Smokey.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Judith – Even the otherwise ageless, eh? For sure it can be the case that a given image is so familiar it fades into the background, losing its attention-getting impact.

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