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Only you can preserve Smokey Bear's dignity

Smokey Bear is giving thumbs-up because he checked that his fur was brushed generously.
Smokey Bear is giving thumbs-up because he checked that his fur was brushed generously.
National Park Service

This weekend saw the 70th anniversary of Smokey Bear, the Forest Service's mascot who tells children that "Only you can prevent wildfires." And it turns out that the US government has put a surprising amount of energy into keeping his image squeaky-clean for all those decades.

Courtesy of the official Smokey Bear Guidelines, published in 2009 by the US Forest Service, here's a glimpse into what it takes to preserve the integrity of America's best-known employee of the US Department of Agriculture.

On inappropriate partnerships

Smokey may not be depicted as endorsing a product, but he may appear with the product.

A document from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issues helpful clarification on this point:

Smokey could appear with Ronald McDonald for fire prevention purposes. However, Smokey could not appear with Ronald to promote McDonald’s hamburgers.

On appropriate partnerships

To renew the important message of wildfire prevention to Americans, Smokey enlisted the help of Bambi in 2004. Smokey has an experienced partner in Bambi, who was actually the first face of the forest fire prevention message in 1942.

On maintaining the dignity of Smokey's image

The Forest Service allows local departments to create and sell products that use Smokey Bear, but only if they submit them to the national office for approval first (emphasis added):

Only approved Smokey Bear art shall be used and care must be taken that the field production does not conflict with or detract from the National effort...Smokey's image will not be demeaned or tarnished.


But ripping a burned-out car door off its hinges is A-OK. (US Bureau of Land Management)

How to get a Smokey Bear costume

Only state forestry agencies and the US Forest Service are permitted to own Smokey Bear costumes "without prior approval." Even local fire departments have to ask their state forestry agency for approval to buy a Smokey costume. And only certain companies are allowed to make them:

Official Smokey Bear costumes must be ordered from authorized manufacturers. The authorized Smokey Bear costume manufacturers do not require a ‘license,' but do have a letter of authorization from the Forest Service.

How to use a Smokey Bear costume

The agency that owns the costume is responsible for keeping it safe from vandalism. The guidebook recommends keeping it under lock and key when not being used, and marking "the costume box to say, 'Warning: Unauthorized use or possession of this costume is not permitted.'"

When putting on the costume, the Forest Service instructs wearers to go through a checklist. The last item to check before going out into the public is, "Is the fur brushed generously?"

How not to use a Smokey Bear costume

Examples of inappropriate uses are: Christmas parties, summer picnics, Halloween parties, Job Fairs, the Combined Federal Campaign, or any situation that might compromise Smokey's integrity or give the appearance of impropriety.

The costumed bear should not force itself on anyone. Do not walk rapidly toward small children.

How to dispose of a Smokey Bear costume

When it is determined by the owner/manager that the costume is no longer fit to wear and must be disposed of, the suit shall be rendered unrecognizable as a Smokey Bear costume by cutting, tearing, and/or burning all components.

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