Dr. Ed Smith and Smokey Bear in 1950. Briefly named “Hotfoot Teddy” this five-pound bear with burned paws was found clinging to a charred tree during a fire in the Lincoln National Forest. He became the "living symbol" of Smokey Bear.
Credit New Mexico State Forestry Division / NMEMRD
This week, an American icon celebrates his birthday: Smokey Bear is turning 68.
He’s still a spry old guy, kept alive by the Ad Council and the US Forest Service. It’s New Mexico’s forests that have been taking a hammering. In 2011, the Las Conchas Fire was the largest in state history. Then this year, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest doubled its record. This summer also saw the state’s most destructive wildfire, the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso.
Even after the flames have died down, the impacts of a wildfire persist. Without tree and grass roots to absorb rainfall and hold soil in place, flooding can be a big problem.
In the wake of the Whitewater-Baldy Fire—which burned almost 300,000 acres in southwestern New Mexico—officials in the Gila National Forest have been working to get ahead of the summer rains and next year’s snowmelt.
Researchers and ranchers are studying whether cattle grazing could significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in rugged areas of the southwest. As Laurel Morales reports from the Fronteras Changing America Desk, firefighters had the toughest time fighting recent record-setting fires in steep terrain where dry grasses and other fuels had built up.