Posted in From the Archives, tagged Advertising Council, Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program, National Association State Foresters, Only You, Rudolph Wendelin, Smokey Bear, Smokey's 65th Birthday, U.S. Forest Service, War Advertising Council on August 24, 2009|
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This month marks the birthday of Smokey Bear, who has acted as conservation messenger and protector of America’s forests since August 1944. As part of a fire prevention campaign, Smokey’s visage on posters, signs, buses, and television commercials has encouraged Americans to complete the phrase, “Only you…”
In honor of our anthropomorphic advocate, we’d like to share just an abbreviated timeline and just a few of the Smokey Bear-related items present in our archival and photographic collections.
1942 – The U.S. entry into World War II following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor made America keenly aware of the vulnerability of U.S. soil and left the homefront bereft of experienced firefighters, many of whom joined the armed forces. Protection of the country’s forests became a national security matter. With the help of the War Advertising Council, the Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) Program with the National Association State Foresters and launched a fire prevention campaign.
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The first World Congress of Environmental History concluded two weeks ago in Copenhagen, Denmark. There were more than 500 attendees from all over the world. In addition to sending two people to the conference, the Forest History Society was also a sponsor.
I’m happy to report that forest history is alive and well and thriving in all four corners of the globe. In nearly every one of the ten sessions there was at least one forest history panel—not just a paper but an entire panel. In addition, other panels had forest history papers sprinkled among them.
Many areas, regions, and eras were examined and discussed, from ancient Mediterranean forests to German forests in the 1980s and 90s. While the breadth of topics was impressive, it was also enlightening to learn how historians are making use of research from fields like archeology, geography in its many forms (cultural, agricultural, etc.), and ecology, in addition to traditional document and image research. Given the new tools and information about forests coming out of these other disciplines, it is important to share the observation of Richard Tucker from the University of Michigan: More and new research needs to be done on logging companies and their role in the forest. I agree—it’s time to revisit this topic and move beyond the traditional institutional accounts and look at what, where, and how they operated in the forests. The intersections of forest history with other fields like military history were also great to encounter and point to new, exciting areas for forest historians to explore and consider.
It was also energizing to see how well attended the sessions were. A couple of panels in larger rooms had standing-room-only crowds. Lively discussions took place in the sessions and afterward. And, in fact, in two countries! (Okay, so Saturday’s sessions were held across the Baltic Sea in Sweden. But it still counts!)
I encourage you to look at the abstracts of the papers presented at the conference and you’ll see what I mean when I say forest history is alive and thriving around the world.
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On this date 60 years ago, the Mann Gulch fire in Montana’s Helena National Forest was first spotted. This devastating wildfire would eventually claim the lives of 12 U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers and one fire guard, as well as burn close to 5,000 acres of timber and grasslands. The tragic events surrounding this fire ensure that August 5, 1949, will forever be remembered within U.S. Forest Service and wildland firefighting history.
Hot weather and lightning storms the previous evening put Forest Service rangers in the area on notice that day, and around noon, the Mann Gulch fire was first officially reported. Shortly thereafter, a plane carrying 15 smokejumpers was dispatched to the fire from Missoula, Montana.
At the time of Mann Gulch, smokejumping was a relatively new practice. The Forest Service’s Aerial Fire Control Experimental Project had moved to the North Pacific Region (Region 6) in 1939 and switched its focus from aerial water drops to experiments with parachute jumping. The first operational use of smokejumpers by the Forest Service occurred in 1940, but prior to Mann Gulch, no smokejumper had ever died fighting a wildfire.
Forest Service smokejumpers dropped over Sherman Gulch, Lolo National Forest, Montana, June 17, 1954.
After landing on the ground a half-mile from the fire, the 15 smokejumpers were met by James O. Harrison, a fire guard from the nearby Meriwether Canyon Campground, and the group headed down the gulch towards the nearby Missouri River to stake a safer position. The dry conditions and high winds, along with a change in wind direction, caused the fire to suddenly expand. The men’s route was cut off, forcing them back uphill while trying to outrun the swiftly advancing fire. It was later estimated that during this blow-up stage, the fire covered 3,000 acres in 10 minutes. (more…)
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