Smokey the Bear thought he smelled a fire in the woods. But as he approached the clearing and saw a giant derrick jutting out into the sky, he realized that what his nose had picked up was the scent of hydrocarbons. It was another piece of evidence that the increasingly widespread method of oil and gas extraction known as fracking was poisoning the environment that he and his human friends depend on. He decided something must be done.
At least that’s the way that artist, Occupy Wall Street veteran and environmental activist Lopi LaRoe sees it. But last week she received a letter threatening her with jail time and thousands of dollars in fines for enlisting Smokey to the anti-fracking cause.
In the fall, LaRoe created an image of Smokey that altered his famous invective “Only you can prevent forest fires” to “Only you can prevent faucet fires” — a reference to the phenomenon of flaming taps that occasionally occur near where fracking takes place. The adjustment seemed to her in line with the message of conservation Smokey has come to embody.
“This is the radicalization of Smokey the Bear,” said LaRoe. “This is Smokey waking up and saying, ‘Oh you didn’t do that to my environment.’ Smokey wants to fight the corporations and protect the air and the water and the plants and the animals and the people.”
Her parody went viral. She began printing T-shirts at the insistence of friends on Facebook, but demand quickly surpassed those in her immediate circle of contacts. Soon she was packing Smokey in FedEx envelopes and sending him off to Australia and other far-flung terrains. There are also tote bags and patches with the Smokey meme available at LaRoe’s website. (The tote bags, she advertises, are “great for dumpster diving.”) LaRoe says she’s not out to become rich and the money she charges customers goes toward covering her costs so that she can keep spreading the message of faucet-fire prevention far and wide.
“It spread like wildfire,” she said, grinning ear to ear.
Not everyone is amused. LaRoe received a cease-and-desist letter from the Metis Group, which serves as legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service division. The letter informs LaRoe that Smokey, his character and his slogan are property of the U.S. government and warns that she has until May 2 to halt the use of Smokey on her “products” and to stop distributing electronic copies of the meme. Otherwise, she faces up to six months in prison and a penalty as high as $150,000.
“Any time anybody uses Smokey’s image for anything other than wildfire prevention,” said Helene Cleveland, fire prevention program manager for the Forest Service, “it confuses the public. What we’re trying to do is keep Smokey on message.” Cleveland added that the 1952 Smokey the Bear Act takes the character out of the public domain and “any change in that would have to go through Congress.”
Two other entities besides the Forest Service claim joint rights to Smokey. The National Association of State Foresters — a non-profit organization consisting of directors of U.S. forestry agencies — and the Ad Council.
Remember “This is your brain on drugs”? Or the Indian weeping over pollution? They were the Ad Council’s handiwork. A non-profit, it describes itself as a promoter of “public service campaigns on behalf of non-profit organizations and government agencies” with a focus on “improving the quality of life for children, preventive health, education, community well being and strengthening families.” Smokey the Bear was born at the Ad Council, on the desk of abstract expressionist and Marx-influenced art critic Harold Rosenberg, who had a part time job there in the mid-1940s.
The Ad Council’s board of directors is a conflagration of representatives of the world’s wealthiest corporations, including representatives of such companies as General Electric, which announced plans last month to spend $110 million on a research lab devoted to the study of fracking, and finance giants such as Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. On its website, Citibank advertises an “extensive array of deposit, cash management and credit products” for oil and gas drillers, while a JPMorgan Chase subsidiary boasts its “Oil & Gas Investment Banking group covers the complete oil and gas value chain, which includes exploration and production, natural gas processing and transmission, refining and marketing, and oilfield services.”
LaRoe believes that those who claim to own Smokey “don’t care that I’m selling a few T-shirts. They’re out to crush the meme.”
Both the Ad Council and the Metis Group declined to comment for this story.
Despite the warnings in the cease-and-desist letter she received, the May 2 deadline to shut down her site and retire her anti-fracking Smokey came and went; LaRoe has not ceased or desisted. Instead, she enlisted the help of her own legal counsel, who fired back with a letter to the Metis Group on Friday. In it, attorney Evan Sarzin argues that LaRoe ‘s culture-jam appropriation of Smokey is permissible under the fair-use exemption to exclusive copyright ownership and chides the Forest Service for attempting to infringe on LaRoe’s First Amendment rights.
Sarzin also points out that this is not the first time the Forest Service has sought to silence environmentalists for appropriating Smokey’s image. In the early 1990s, the Forest Service demanded reparations from the Sante Fe-based conservation group LightHawk after it used Smokey’s likeness in ads critical of the agency’s practice of auctioning off land to timber companies. (The Forest Service, as part of the Department of Agriculture, makes its land available for commercial use.) Unlike LaRoe’s Smokey, LightHawk’s black bear appeared angry and wielded a chainsaw. “Say it ain’t so, Smokey,” read the ads.
With legal funds provided by the Sierra Club, LightHawk sued the Forest Service in 1992 for infringing on its freedom of speech. The court eventually sided with the plaintiffs, noting that “the satirical use of Smokey the Bear to criticize Forest Service management techniques is unlikely to cause confusion or to dilute the value of Smokey the Bear to help prevent forest fires. Thus the Forest Service cannot have a compelling interest in prohibiting such use.”
Sarzin also calls attention to the fact that the Forest Service’s own research points to environmental degradation caused by fracking. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Environmental Quality by Forest Service researchers linked frack fluid to the death of 150 trees in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. Despite their findings, the Forest Service is considering approving fracking leases in the nearby George Washington National Forest. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which opposes the plan, says it represents a threat to local wildlife — including the black bear.
A report released last month by the National Parks Conservation Association warns that fracking for oil is decimating the ecosystem surrounding Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named after the Republican president who founded the Forest Service. “Unless we take quick action,” the report warns “air, water and wildlife will experience permanent harm in other national parks as well.” Thus, Sarzin writes, LaRoe’s Smokey meme “is a message that the Forest Service should endorse.”
LaRoe hopes that by gaining publicity she can force the Forest Service to take a stand against fracking. In order to continue the fight, however, she says she needs the support of groups whose mission it is to defend civil liberties or protect the environment to provide legal defense funds — just as the Sierra Club did for LightHawk.
“This is about more than me as an artist,” LaRoe said. “This is about everybody’s right to freedom of speech and a healthy environment.”
Her childhood memories of Smokey, she explains, are compelling her to keep raising faucet-fire prevention awareness despite the threat of jail time. “When we were little kids we were taught that there is this bear out there that wants to protect our forests. Smokey is our bear. He belongs to the people.”
Many are celebrating the recent convictions against the Proud Boys, but they will only strengthen the state’s ability to target the left.
A new book explores how Miss Major has persevered over six inspiring decades on the frontlines of the queer and trans liberation movement.
Humor in Native culture has never been simply about entertainment. Comedy is also used to fight cultural invisibility and structural oppression.
Love your site.
This paragraph: A report released last month by the the National Parks Conservation Association warns that fracking for oil is decimating the ecosystem surrounding Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named after the Republican president who founded the Forest Service. “Unless we take quick action,” the report warns “air, water and wildlife will experience permanent harm in other national parks as well.” Thus, Sarzin writes, LaRoe’s Smokey meme “is a message that the Forest Service should endorse.” — is frakked up because the National Parks Conservation Association is a non-profit (NGO) Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a, well, National Park under the National Park Service, which is under the Department of the Interior. The Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture. It would be as though I used a press release from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, about something related to Roman Catholic worship, in an article about Baptists.
A symbol of the Commons should NOT be “owned” for profit.
Solidarity, from WV, with the anti-Fracking movement; and with Lopi for her brilliant and timely meme.
Can’t wait for my Tshirt to arrive!
As Satire of the best kind, it’s protected speech. Stand your ground, Smokee!
Frack the Forest Service! And every other corrupt inept governmental agency which is allowing the rape of the commons of Nature, which belong to ALL life, including WE The People, as STEWARDS. The reduction of all an everything to a dollar $$ value to be exploited for corporate interests at the expense of a livable future IS despicable and evil.
End the Endless Wars, Fracking, GMO’s, and jail the Legitimate Rapist Bankers, and politicians which are protecting nothings interests as we consumers create a wasteland in or wake.
I am ashamed to be an American and proud of it.
I can’t believe that my tax dollars are being spent to spoil the beauty of the United States of America. Corporate lobbying to destroy the natural beauty of the United States is tantamount to treason.
We American citizens and taxpayers must decry this befouling of our natural beauty. Soon, all of our national forests, parks and monuments will be raped and left for dead, and the cleanup bill will fall upon the taxpayer. Washington, D.C. is complicit with this and will be of no help to us, the American citizens and taxpayers.
When will this destruction of our natural environment for the sake of short term profit at the expense of the long term damage to our forests and natural wonders end?
I’m sympathetic to the artist’s use of Smokey’s image.
I’m not very well impressed by the writer’s sloppy mistaking Smokey’s name: as clearly shown by the law to which she links, the name is “Smokey Bear”.
“I’m Smokey the Bear and I really care what goes into our water and into our air.
But lo and behold from the mouths of The Cold, I’m told I don’t fit into their corporate mold!
After wracking my brain with a fracking migraine, all I got left is a whole lotta pain!
Hey, folks, I’m Smokey the Bear, and I once had the freedom to really care – until some corporate lawyers warned me to “Beware”.
The environment’s been sold for a pot of gold meaning I might have to come in from the cold. But, before I go, may I tell you something bold? Your freedom of speech is the real, true gold.”
This remark really gets to the heart and the pain of gutless Congress that allows the rich to walk over all the public assets with out a sound as they sign the next blank check .
beautifully spoken, friend.
“I’m Smokey the Bear and I really care what goes into our water and into our air.
But lo and behold from the mouths of “The Sold”, I’ve been told I don’t fit into their corporate mold.
After wracking my brain with a fracking migraine, all I got in return was a whole lotta pain!
Hey, folks, I’m Smokey the Bear, and I, like you, once had the freedom to care – until some corporate lawyers warned me to “Beware”.
The environment’s been sold for a pot of gold meaning I might have to come in from the cold. But, before I go, may I tell you something bold?
Your freedom of speech is the real, true gold.”
Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Oh that’s right, it’s only for those who can afford it. The corporations
Keep up the GOOD WORK for SMOKEY.
“The Ad Council’s board of directors is a conflagration of representatives of the world’s wealthiest corporations…”
Look up the word “conflagration”…
While I am very sympithetic I think the law is agaist her only if she can prove that The Smokey the Bear Caracter is public domain
Please print the phone numbers of all these “government” groups so that we can inundate them with calls of outrage. We are supposed to be a government OF the people, FOR the people – not of & for corporations!
I believe they can use Smokey the Bear. His real name is Smokey Bear with no the in the name.
Smokey Bear (often called Smokey the Bear or Smokey) is a mascot of the United States Forest Service created to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. An advertising campaign featuring Smokey was created in 1944 with the slogan, “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires”. Smokey Bear’s later slogan, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires”, was created in 1947 by the Ad Council. In April 2001, the message was updated to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”. According to the Ad Council, Smokey Bear and his message are recognized by 95% of adults and 77% of children in the U.S.
Smokey’s correct name is Smokey Bear. In 1952, the songwriters Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins had a successful song named “Smokey the Bear”. The pair said that “the” was added to Smokey’s name to keep the song’s rhythm. During the 1950s, that variant of the name became widespread both in popular speech and in print, including at least one standard encyclopedia. A 1955 book in the Little Golden Books series was called Smokey the Bear and Smokey calls himself by this name in the book. From the beginning, Smokey’s name was intentionally spelled differently from the adjective smoky.
The fictional character Smokey Bear, created by the art critic Harold Rosenberg , is administered by three entities: the United States Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council. Smokey Bear’s name and image are protected by U.S. federal law, the Smokey Bear Act of 1952 (16 U.S.C. 580 (p-2); 18 U.S.C. 711).
We used “the” for reasons of copyright ;).
Stop the Motherfrackers!
His name is Smokey Bear, never Smokey The Bear.
Good Show!!! You go, girl!
Helene Cleveland…YOU can go “frack” yourself!
Give a Hoot. Don’t Let Oil Companies Pollute
See Smokey and the Ad Council exposed in this article I wrote:
Occupy Earth Day: An Expose of the Corporate Propaganda Systems that Undermine Systemic Change Activism
If you want to help stop the US Forest Service from Fracking George Washington National Forest, please go here to comment: http://www.fs.fed.us/contactus/
I find it curious that the US Forest Service doesn’t want to “confuse the message” of preventing wildfires by adding to that “preventing faucet fires”
What difference does it make what kind of fires Smokey speaks out against?
How does the US Forest Service propose putting out wildfires with Flaming water??
This is bigger then me, this is about protecting the environment from the fallout from greed.
thanks for the support!
Thanks for the anti-jamming campaign. This takes courage, and here i was offended by a rash of ads for smokey the bear at bus-stops here in the capitol. There ARE no forests for smokey the bear here in the capitol, but the insinuation was that smokey was capitalist, come get it, or a bureaucrat, above the fray of the common beasts. And I had read about someone in an earlier post suggesting it was high time the FS or EPA developed a new mascot or adapted an existing one to better represent the issues of the day. Now Smokey the Bear protects valuable woods, but those woods had long been for dirt cheap sale, but still sales protected by powerful interests. They cannot understand that other resources are at stake under fracking–water pollution, air pollution, and soil pollution–affects the habitat for miles. Are US citizens lives that cheap, are habitats that easy to replace? No, and Smokey the Bear would really be afraid to light a cigarette anywhere near one of these drill operations, if he smokes at all, which he don’t. So it’s a real relief to see that the good Bear standing up once again for exigent causes and preventable destruction of habitat.
I am printing my own t-shirts and bumper stickers… if we all did that, plus, buy a t-shirt from Lopi LaRoe, they couldn’t sue or arrest us all!
He’s my Smokey too and I want him telling us kids to help prevent faucet fires.
why not just change the name of the bear, make it a girl, Sarah Bear. Just another concerned wild animal reaching out to the public. they may own Smoky, they don’t own bears.
You go, girl! Smokey the Bear should NOT just be used to Prevent both Forest and Wildfires; but those associated with fracking (especially in our
wilderness areas). These includes federal lands controlled by the US Forest
Service and the National Park Service. What these people trying to shut you up are violating your 1st Amendment rights. I firmly hope you win.
Goodnight and good luck.
thank you for your support!
I am still looking for legal representation.
Prosecution to Judge: “Smokey is the property of the U.S. Government.”
Judge to Prosecution: “Which makes him the property of We, the People. Next case.”
I’m buying a shirt, Uncle Sam. So sue me.
If Anti-Fracking Smokey is being persecuted, why is Christian Smokey ok? After 19 firefighters killed in AZ, Christian Smokey made the firefighter email rounds. He was shown kneeling with praying hands and bowed head along with his forest friends who were also in praying stance. The Christian Smokey image was not developed by the USFS and was obviously circulated to honor the killed firefighters, however its “good faith” intention is not “in good faith” to everyone on the receiving end. It is offensive because it makes the Christian Smokey the default acceptable way of honoring the dead and leaves non-Christians to silently accept it or face scorn for even mentioning the oversight to seculars as if it isn’t a worthy complaint, furthering the Christian discrimination.
Can I just say what a comfort to find someone who genuinely knows what they
are talking about online. You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important.
More and more people have to read this and understand this side of your story.
I was surprised you’re not more popular given that you surely possess the gift.