BuzzFeed Spreads Fake News About Smokey Bear’s Fire Prevention Campaign

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Amber Athey Podcast Columnist
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BuzzFeed News issued a correction Tuesday on an article that contained false information about the wildfire prevention campaign promoted by the fictional character “Smokey Bear.”

Despite Smokey’s popular slogan, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” BuzzFeed News’ article inaccurately characterized Smokey Bear’s campaign as one of “fire suppression” rather than “fire prevention.”

BuzzFeed News tweeted an excerpt from the article, writing, “Most experts now agree that a decades-long policy of suppressing fires in forests, a campaign fronted by Smokey Bear, was a bad idea.”

BuzzFeed News deleted its tweet and explained the error, adding with surprise, “And yes, his name is actually Smokey Bear.”

The publication also added a correction on the article.

BuzzFeed News Corrects Smokey Bear Reference (Screenshot: November 21, 2018)

(Screenshot: November 21, 2018)

Smokey Bear made his first appearance in 1944 as part of an advertisement campaign with the U.S. Forest Service aimed at preventing wildfires. The ads warn people that their behavior, such as failing to put out campfires or improperly discarding matches, can cause forest fires.

Alternatively, wildfire suppression refers to efforts to suppress any fires once they start burning. As BuzzFeed explained, scientists now warn that certain areas need to burn occasionally in order to thin out vegetation and promote biodiversity.

While the U.S. Forest Service did practice full fire suppression, Smokey Bear was only ever used to promote fire prevention efforts.

Here is the Forest Service’s current suppression policy:

When we see a wildfire, our first response is to put it out. For decades, the Forest Service has done just that when it came to wildland fires. But science has changed the way we think about wildland fire and the way we manage it. We still suppress fires, especially if they threaten people and communities, but we understand that fire has a role in nature – one that can lead to healthy ecosystems. So we look for ways to manage it to play its role, for instance, by igniting prescribed fires.

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