Smokey Bear gets new vocal cords for 75th birthday

Happy birthday big guy -- it's been a wild ride so far.

Smokey Bear is preparing to enter his twilight years. 

The legendary mascot of America’s long-running wildfire prevention campaign turns 75 today. 

He can look back on his life so far with pride, having achieved decades of success since its introduction in 1944 (thanks to ad agency FCB).

"The hardest working bear in the world, Smokey, has for decades now tirelessly shared with the public the message ‘Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,’" said U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. 

"And I’m certain that 75 years from now, Smokey will still be active in his duty of spreading the wildfire prevention message -- reminding us to do our part in preventing unwanted wildfire."

His progress continues today, with an estimated 14 percent reduction in the average number of human-caused wildfires from 2011 to 2018, compared to the previous 10 years. While it’s clear his work has been successful, nine out of 10 wildfires are still caused by humans, which means Smokey’s work is far from done.

To celebrate the wildfire prevention icon’s milestone birthday, the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, FCB New York and the Ad Council are releasing new PSAs featuring Betty White. 

It will announce the addition of a new Smokey Bear balloon in the 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and promote birthday parties and local events across the nation.

"Smokey Bear and his friends know that wildfire is not just a western issue or a summer phenomenon. It’s always wildfire season somewhere in the United States," said Jay Farrell, executive director of the National Association of State Foresters. 

"This is why it is so important that Smokey’s message resonate year-round and nationwide with all Americans. This year’s Smokey Bear wildfire prevention campaign and the hundreds of events held in his honor promise to do just that."

Smokey Bear has only said a handful of words over the last 75 years. To complement this signature message "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires" (voiced by actor Sam Elliott for the last 12 years), Smokey’s famous friends are stepping in to speak through him about the importance of fire safety and wildfire prevention.

With the help of ad agency FCB and cutting-edge facial recognition and mapping technology, Smokey’s friend Betty White is the most recent celebrity to lend her voice and carry on the beloved bear’s legacy into his 75th year with an animated emoji PSA. Stephen Colbert, Jeff Foxworthy, and Al Roker have also lent their voices to the cause in similar PSAs launched earlier this year. 

"75 years ago, FCB, in partnership with what would become the Ad Council, gave birth to Smokey Bear," said Susan Credle, FCB global chief creative officer. "All these years, he’s been reminding us that ‘Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.’ In other words, there’s a little Smokey Bear in all of us. 

"This year, we are asking people to listen to their inner Smokey Bear. People sharing stories about why they love the outdoors and how they protect our country’s beautiful wildlife -- what a perfect gift to give Smokey Bear on his 75th birthday!"

Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council, added: "This coalition of partners has created an extraordinary legacy for Smokey Bear over the past 75 years, and the Ad Council is so proud to be part of Smokey’s story. Very few advertising icons have stood the test of time the way Smokey has, and thanks to our favorite bear, individuals across the nation know they play an important role in helping to prevent wildfires."

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