Smokey Bear and the pyropolitics of United States forest governance

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Wildfire prevention advertisements featuring Smokey Bear represent the longest-standing and most successful government advertising and branding campaign in U.S. history. As the public face of U.S. fire control policy, Smokey Bear uses mass media to influence the attitudes and behavior of U.S. citizenry in order to accomplish particular outcomes related to wildfire prevention and suppression, forest protection, and resource management. Smokey Bear can therefore be viewed as a governmental instrument that simultaneously targets the behavior of the U.S. public and the biophysical materiality of combustible forests. Examining the evolution of Smokey Bear and related wildfire prevention media, we explore connections between state management of people, territory, and flammable landscapes. Borrowing from Nigel Clark (2011), we use the term pyropolitics to describe the resulting more-than-human assemblage of citizenship, fire suppression and forest ecology. Importantly, this pyropolitical assemblage has substantive and recursive impacts on state practice. Through aggressive wildfire prevention and suppression that include and extend beyond Smokey Bear, the U.S. state has transformed fuel loads, species com- positions, and ecosystem dynamics across North America. One result is a heightened propensity toward catastrophic wildfire, requiring additional and sustained state intervention to maintain an imposed and unstable equilibrium. Thus even as the economic, social and cultural realities of U.S. civic life have changed over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries e and even as knowledge of the ecological benefits of fire to ecosystem health has developed over time e the message of Smokey Bear has remained remarkably consistent, communicating an official imperative to prevent anthropogenic ignition.

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Political Geography