WASHINGTON – Smokey Bear was unfair.
The Forest Service said Tuesday it has canceled a public service ad in which the iconic bear warned that sparks from off-road vehicles could start a wildfire.
Off-road groups had complained that the ad sent the wrong message that riders operating ATVs in a legal manner can start forest fires.
"The mutual goal of the Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council is to spread Smokey's enduring message of preventing wildfires to all forest users," the Forest Service said in a statement Tuesday.
Because the ATV ad was interpreted as unfairly targeting off-road riders, the Forest Service has requested that TV stations and other media outlets that had broadcast the ad discontinue it, the Forest Service said.
The BlueRibbon Coalition, an Idaho-based group that advocates for off-road vehicles, hailed the ad's withdrawal.
"I honestly believe the agencies had intended to create a positive message regarding safe use of ATVs on public lands," said Don Amador, the group's Western representative.
Whatever its intent, the ad "incorrectly conveyed to the ATV rider that the best way for them to prevent wildfires was to stay at home. Instead, the ad should have encouraged the use of Forest Service-approved spark arresters and limiting travel to approved routes and areas," Amador said.
Forest Service officials said the ad was not intended to imply that all ATV use causes fires — rather that fire prevention is always important, especially at a time of high fire danger.
The Forest Service supports responsible use of ATVs on public land, said Jim Bedwell, the agency's director of recreation. ATV riders must use spark arresters — which restrict sparks from escaping an exhaust system — when operating off-road on public lands.