Smoked Bear: Before 1980 less than 25,000 acres burned in Nevada wildfires each year. Now that number’s gone up to 600,000. That’s an increase of 24 times as many acres.
Jimmy: That’s a lot of rabbits and deer and birds. What can we do?
Smoked Bear: Write and call the Forest Service. Ask them to reduce the wildfire fuel on the land.
Jimmy: What’s fuel?
Smoked Bear: It’s grass and plants that cattle and sheep used to eat. The Forest Service could reduce the fuel by allowing cattle and sheep to graze before it burns.
— Radio commercial at SmokedBear.com
That’s no typo. The protagonist of this and six other radio spots being played for the past two years in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico is Smoked Bear, not Smokey.
That is the lede on today’s column in the Ely Times. It is about a campaign by Elko attorney Grant Gerber, who grew up in a ranching family and has worked on countless land and water use issues across the country for decades.
His Smoked Bear message is not that “only you can prevent wildfires” — since more than half of wildfires in Nevada are started by lightning — but that increased grazing by cattle and sheep on public lands could decrease the size of wildfires and the number of wild animals killed by them — probably well more than 1.5 million pygmy rabbits, cottontail rabbits, chipmunks, porcupines, deer, squirrels and sage grouse this year alone.
More than 500,000 acres have burned in Nevada this year and in 2006 more than 1.3 million acres burned.
Gerber estimates the number of cattle in Nevada is down by well over 50 percent and the number of sheep is down by over 95 percent from the early 1900s, with the biggest reductions coming since the 1950s, coinciding with the increased size of fires.
Coincidentally, the Nevada Department of Wildlife estimates the deer population in Nevada was nearly 250,000 in the 1950s, but due to various factors, including wildfire, the population has dropped to less than 100,000.
To further the education process, Smoked Bear is offering $70,000 in scholarships and prizes to Nevada children and young adults in an essay and poster contest. See the website for details.