For the first four decades of my life I was trusting, naïve, and gullible. I believed Bill Clinton when he spoke directly to the American public in 1998 saying, “I did not have…..Miss Lewinsky.” I believed that people in positions of leadership must necessarily have high morals. Dishonesty, if discovered, would be their ruin–right? Wow. I was so wrong. Now I ask questions whenever something doesn’t ring true. I’ve also looked back to times I was duped.

All my life, Smokey the Bear has been telling me, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” This ad campaign began in 1944 (before I was born) and I can remember desperately worrying about all my little forest friends. There was a small revision in 2001, substituting “wildfires” for “forest fires” but we still see Bambi and Thumper in ads while the voiceover says,  “Help protect the home of our forest friends” and “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.”  This campaign has been so successful that 95% of adults and 77% of children in the U.S. can identify Smokey. Over the years, Smokey continued to point his finger at me; I accepted the blame with a heavy heart.

I moved to Montana in 2005 and forest fires are far more common than in the Midwest where all my pre-Montana years were spent. I started to pay attention. The United States Forest Service states that 9 out of 10 fires are started by humans. Say what? I have heard of some fires started by humans. But, what do I hear over and over and over? The fires are started by lightning strikes.

Buried in my psyche, the thoughts recently surfaced when a brief statement was noticed in the Hungry Horse News: Lightning strikes over the past weekend ignited several new fires across the Flathead National Forest (August 1, 2012). I pondered. Lightning strikes. Not humans. I placed a call to the Flathead National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Kalispell and told the agent who answered that I had a few questions. He was very pleasant. A brief summary of our conversation: He agreed that our Montana forest fires are caused by lightning strikes. I asked him what he thought about Smokey the Bear’s message. He, paused, acknowledged I had a point, but defended his mascot saying Smokey the Bear has an important message. I asked about the 9 out of 10 human-caused statistic. Detecting a hint of uncertainty in his voice, he said that it is a national statistic and certain areas like Region 5 in California have a lot of BIC fires which skew the data. Hmmmm. OK.  I thanked him. He was really nice to talk to. But then….

Pondering resurfaced after hearing this story on the radio: NORTHERN CALIFORNIA (AP) – Firefighters have been making progress against a series of wildfires burning in Northern California, but fire officials say more than 900 lightning strikes late Friday and early Saturday have started more fires throughout the region (August 19, 2012). Say what? I just can’t imagine a comparison of 900 people with their BIC lighters starting fires.

Smokey the Bear is administered by three agencies: the United States Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council. I wondered about the Ad Council and found their mission to be: Effecting Positive Social Change. Hmmmmm. I think we’re on to something now.

Smokey’s  website credits the 9 out of 10 human-caused wildfires statistic to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). I couldn’t find that information when visiting the NIFC site, but I stopped looking when I read this:

Disclaimer of Liability and Endorsement

While the Department of the Interior strives to make the information on this website as timely and accurate as possible, the department makes no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this site, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of this site.

Am I to return to my days of being gullible? No! If the NIFC can’t verify, they shouldn’t publish! Why does Smokey the Bear continue to lie? Wait. Smokey the Bear is a fictional character. The deception is clearly human-caused. The campaign could still be effective if Smokey would honestly say, “Only YOU can make a difference.”

While I no longer accept Smokey’s guilt trip, I am greatly concerned. Deceitfulness is commonplace and accepted as the way things are. Lies or partial truths are justified if it “effects positive social change” or fulfills some other agenda. Why should anyone accept that the change will be positive? It’s pure manipulation! The end justifies the means? Sorry. This is not acceptable. Give the facts and let intelligent people make an informed decision. Who can be trusted? Not Smokey.  Hold all people and agencies accountable and point out the deceit wherever it is discovered.

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