Smokey Bear stopped by the Discovery Center at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve to educate children on forest fire prevention, but due to the government shutdown, he needed some help.
On Monday, Oct. 14, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve held its annual Smokey Bear Day to teach visitors about wildfire prevention and the use of prescribed fire as a management tool in the Pine Bush Preserve.
Since Smokey is a federally owned educational tool, he was not allowed to speak due to the government shutdown. Instead, Park Ranger Karen Glesmann was there to convey his message for him while he waits for his voice to return.
Glesmann, who is the ranger for Albany County, was not able to discuss the furlough or anything related to the government shutdown. But she answered questions about Smokey’s history, and said humans start 96 percent of wildfires.
Smokey Bear was created in 1944 when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council decided he would be the perfect advocate for their joint efforts to prevent forest fires. The living mascot was not discovered until 1950, in the Captain Mountains of New Mexico. A black bear cub was trapped in a wildfire and sought refuge by climbing a tree. Firefighters rescued him and noticed his paws and hind legs were badly burned. They named him Smokey.
Smokey was nursed back to health but his wounds prevented him from returning to the wild so he went to the zoo in Washington, D.C.
“Today’s event is to teach people all about the Pine Bush Preserve and why it is so important to have fire here when we do it in a prescribed manner,” Discovery Center Director Jeffrey S. Folmer said. “Fire is an important part of this globally rare ecosystem that is one of a only a few inland pine barrens in the whole world, and this is widely considered the best remaining example.”
The Pine Bush Preserve is a 3,200-acre nature preserve with 18 miles of trails for walking, hiking and biking. The preserve is made up of pitch pine scrub oak forest with sand dunes, which was formed by glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission was set up by the state legislature in 1988 and there are 13 partners making it a public/private partnership.
Most of the funding for the Pine Bush comes from the Environmental Protection Fund. While the furlough has not directly affected the Discovery Center, it has stopped some research projects there with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services and other agencies.
One of the characteristics of the preserve is that many of the plant species depend on periodic fire for their survival. After a burn, the plants will flourish, and without fire, the landscape would change drastically. While controlled burning is necessary for survival of the preserve, Folmer said it is important to educate people on how to prevent forest fires.
“Smokey is an icon, you know? His job is to teach people about fire and fire prevention,” said Folmer. “We don’t want wildfires; we don’t want people doing things that are inappropriate that would cause wildfires. We use Smokey as a great ambassador for kids to learn about fire.”