Brooklyn-based artist and environmental activist Lopi LaRoe sees Smokey the Bear as a friend. As a kid raised by environmentalists, she grew up with him, she says, and feels a particular connection to the affable but informative cultural touchstone invented by the US Forest Service in 1944. “So I thought it was a perfect culture-jamming opportunity to take this very familiar conservationist and turn him into an anti-fracking activist,” she tells the Voice.
The Forest Service, on the other hand, isn’t a fan of LaRoe’s representation of a Smokey who tries to prevent “faucet fires.” Nearly a year after LaRoe began carrying images of a newly radicalized Smokey to protests, selling T-shirts, and circulating what soon became an Internet meme, the Forest Service asked LaRoe to cease and desist.
For nearly two years, the Forest Service has been embroiled in a debate over whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in western Virginia’s George Washington National Forest.* Concerned citizens and environmental activists have pointed out that the forest contributes to the Shenandoah Valley water supply, serving 4.75 million people–and that hydraulic fracturing has been linked to flammability. Last year, the USDA also came under fire (sorry) for giving loans to businesses with drilling leases, which internal e-mails revealed could potentially violate the National Environmental Policy Act.