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Backfire: the settler-colonial logic and legacy of Smokey Bear

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Since the 1940s, the United States Forest Service’s (USFS) national fire suppression efforts have been bolstered by a public-facing ad campaign led by the Ad Council, most notably through the iconic rise of Smokey Bear. The consequences of decades of strict fire suppression, promulgated and solidified by this highly successful campaign, have been ecologically disastrous, and especially detrimental for fire-dependent Indigenous communities and ecosystems. Scholars have examined the Smokey campaign’s racialized, nationalist discourse, yet none have grappled with the campaign’s settler colonial logic, itself replete with gendered exclusion and speciesism. In this article, we combine intersectional theoretical frameworks with settler colonial and Indigenous studies to carry out a systematic content analysis of 201 unique campaign documents. We demonstrate how the campaign’s production of the careful citizen – one rooted in mid-to-upper class, settler masculinity – hinges on interlocking narratives of Indigenous erasure, low-class criminality, and the helpless victimhood of women and more-than-human species.

Kirsten Vinyeta & J. M. Bacon

Vinyeta, K., & Bacon, J. M. (2024). Backfire: the settler-colonial logic and legacy of Smokey Bear. Environmental Politics, 1–26.