Could Smokey the Bear be Wrong? Or, Why Trump May Just be the Wildfire We Needed

Neil Lockhart

You remember Smokey the Bear — the famous advertising mascot created as part of a public service campaign for forest fire prevention. In his ranger hat and blue jeans, with shovel in hand, Smokey has reminded Americans for over 70 years that “Only you can prevent wildfires” along with the Forest Service’s motto of “No Fires.” For the nation’s forests, fire is usually viewed as an enemy.

Could Smokey be wrong?

Before you rise up to argue this thought, stay with me for a moment. Of course wildfires are dangerous and can be terrible, life-threatening catastrophes. They can be devastating, as we see every year and most recently this year in the Los Angeles area. While Smokey and his forest friends need healthy forests and wildlands to live in, we need to do whatever we can to help stop their homes from being destroyed by wildfires.

But are wildfires always a bad thing?

The reality is, while they can be utterly destructive, wildfires can also be extremely productive when controlled. And sometimes, we need a good fire. According to the U.S. National Park Service, fire has a role as a natural process in parks. In fact, the Service will allow lightning-ignited fires to burn in parks, as long as they are not a threat to life or property.*

But I’m not here to provide a science or environmental lesson — and there’s a reason why I mentioned our president’s name in the subtitle of this article. Here’s my point:

I’m going to suggest that President Donald J. Trump was just the “wild fire” our country needed at this point in history.

We needed something to bring about a shift — from apathy to engagement. I’m not talking about Trump’s specific initiatives or ideas, or his campaign promise to “Make America Great Again.” I’m speaking from a broader social and political perspective. Our political system needed a shock. We needed a good fire to shake us up and to wake us up. Many Americans and segments of our population have become complacent, accepting the status quo from the administration, leadership and policies of the past. This is now changing, as people are waking up and rising up across the country to speak up… to protest (consider all of the enormous women’s marches earlier this year)… to reject invitations to the White House… to say “I cannot support this!” We also woke up to the reality of a disenfranchised segment of the population — Trump voters — whose voice had not been heard from in a long time, but are now a daily part of the national conversation. In the 33 years that I have lived in America, I’ve never seen anything like this level of engagement nationwide. People are waking up everywhere!

In this sense, Donald Trump may just be a blessing in disguise, if he can be managed, much like a controlled forest fire can be a blessing to our forests. The result may not be as devastating as you would think, if enough people are jarred out of complacency into taking more responsibility for being active and proactive as citizens. President Trump may just be the wildfire we needed right now.

I opened this blog post with a photo of a raging wildfire. I end it now with another photo, showing the end result of another wildfire. There is damage, to be sure — but there is also the promise of new growth. It is my hope that we as a country will get to this point; that we will make our way through the fires of these times, and find our way to a better, greener place, with a brighter future ahead.

Yellowstone National Park, Krishna Pendyala

* If you’re interested in the details and importance of fire management, I encourage you to take a look at this report from the National Park Service:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/upload/RI_2016_FINAL_Fire_web.pdf

Here are just a few important benefits of controlled forest fires:

  • They are a natural part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — vegetation has adapted to fire and in some cases may be dependent on it
  • They promote habitat diversity by allowing different plant communities to become established and preventing trees from becoming established in grassland
  • They increase the rate that nutrients become available to plants by rapidly releasing them from wood and forest litter and by hastening the weathering of soil minerals
  • They provide an opportunity for scientists to study the effects of fire on an ecosystem

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on November 10, 2017.

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