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Smokey the Bear

And Now a Word From ... Smokey Bear

Julian Zeng

Smokey the Bear

An interview with the No. 1 advocate for wildfire prevention, celebrating his 75th birthday this year

Congratulations on celebrating your 75th birthday this year (Aug. 9)! What’s been your favorite part of the festivities?

The best part about celebrating this big birthday year has been seeing how many people care about preventing wildfires. It’s great to see so many people stepping up to remind their friends that, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” I’m over the moon (just don’t say I’m over the hill). Oh, and the cake! Who doesn’t love a good, candle-free birthday cake?

As the face of wildfire prevention for 75 years, how has your communication style evolved to promote fire safety?

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When you’ve been around for as long as I have, people might think you’re a bit old school. But, believe me, you can teach an old bear new tricks! I used to think a tweet was just an excited message from my pal, Woodsy Owl. Now, I have more than 400,000 social media friends on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram who help me spread my wildfire prevention message every day. Remember, I’m just a bear standing in front of humans asking them to help him prevent wildfires. #OnlyYou … can follow me @SmokeyBear on Facebook and Instagram (@Smokey_Bear on Twitter).

What’s the most difficult part of your job?

Texting with bear paws. Someday they’ll invent a bear paw-sized keyboard. A bear can dream, right? Also, there’s no Wi-Fi in the forest, but that doesn’t really matter. I always have a better connection to what truly matters there: reminding people about their responsibility to be safe around fire and the unique ways that unplanned fires start each day.

You’re a bear of few—albeit iconic—words. What else do you like to talk about?

I could talk about wildfire prevention all day. And I do! No surprise then that I’ve been saying, “Only you can prevent wildfires,” for so long. Next to Santa’s, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” I think I hold the record for talking about the same topic for the longest time—imagine what a great dinner guest I’d be.

Are you friends with any other celebrity bears?

He may not be 100% ursine, but Stephen Col-BEAR is a good friend and lover of the outdoors. We’re such good buds that he even stepped in to help tell millions of Americans about why wildfire prevention is so important. If there’s ever a direct way to my heart and holiday card list, that’s surely it.

How many hats and shovels have you gone through in your lifetime?

In my lifetime, I have gone through far too many shovels to count—they make putting out campfires a cinch! And as for my hat, well, we all know it’s my favorite accessory, so it’s safe to say I’ve always had a few spares. I’ve even loaned out a few. It’s okay, Pharrell, you can keep it.

Julian Zeng is assistant managing editor at the American Marketing Association. He may be reached at jzeng@ama.org.