Forest Service Inflamed by Brooklyn Anti-Fracking Artist's Smokey the Bear

Categories: fracking

lopi.jpg
Lopi LaRoe
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.

"The feds want to frack our national parks," LaRoe says. "It's not surprising that they're coming after me to try and censor my political speech."

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.

The Forest Service, however, argues that LaRoe's representation of Smokey is separate from his intended purpose--and in violation of the Smokey Bear Act of 1952.

"If you want to use Smokey's image on a product, you need to ask permission and get a license to do so," Helene Cleveland, Forest Service fire prevention program manager, tells the Voice. "If she stopped selling products, that would satisfy the cease and desist request."

"We would also ask her to consider using some other image she would create herself so people are not confused," Cleveland adds.

LaRoe, meanwhile, had a lawyer send a reply to the Forest Service, though she's still seeking someone to take on her case pro bono.** In response to the cease and desist request, Lopi argued that her right to use Smokey is protected under the First Amendment. Her letter claims that the Forest Service's commercialization claims are moot--by "transforming" the image, LaRoe says she's protected under the doctrine of fair use.

"Anybody who looks at that image knows that it's Smokey Bear, the image or facsimile," Cleveland says. "We try to make sure that Smokey only talks about fire prevention and education, and when his image is used elsewhere, it just confuses and dilutes the message."

In 1992, the Sierra Club, along with environmental group LightHawk, preemptively sued the Forest Service for infringing on freedom of speech rights over Smokey Bear. LightHawk ran a series of ads in newspapers showing Smokey with a chainsaw and the words "Say it ain't so, Smokey." But following a cease-and-desist from the Forest Service--and a countersuit--a US district court ruled that LightHawk's "purely expressive political speech" was protected. Still, "the Court by no means intends to create an open season on Smokey Bear," the judge wrote, preserving parts of Smokey's proprietary status.

"Those portions of the regulatory scheme addressing solely commercial uses remain intact," District Judge Carolyn Dimmick wrote.

LaRoe, however, doesn't plan on backing down. "This is a fight that I'm very ready to take on. I'll go to prison," she tells the Voice. "Martin Luther King Jr. said that if there is a law that is unjust it is our duty to break that law.

"I would definitely go to prison for my first amendment rights to make a statement," LaRoe says. "That's how important that is to me."


*The original post listed the name of the forest incorrectly. We regret the error.
**The original version of this post read that LaRoe had already obtained a lawyer.

[@sydbrownstone][sbrownstone@villagevoice.com]


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10 comments
dttomatoes
dttomatoes

Tell the Forest Service to suck it up, and admit what they are doing! I think this is a great idea!

Lopi
Lopi

Helene Cleveland is misrepresenting the facts. The letter I was sent as a cease and desist did not simply say "stop selling tshirts" it said, and I quote: "I demand that you immediately cease the use and distribution of all infringing works, and all copies, including electronic copies, of same, that you deliver to me, if applicable, all unused, undistributed copies of same, or destroy such copies immediately and that you desist from this or any other infringement of these rights in the future."

So, there is a discrepancy between what they are telling me privately and what they are announcing to the world. If the private message, which I have made public, is accurate, then they would also be asking the Village Voice to remove the copy of the Smokey Parody that is posted in this article. Are they asking that?

How would it even be possible to remove all digital copies of a viral meme from the internet??


thanks for the support!


anon
anon

The Forest Service (under USDA) manages National FORESTS. The National Park Service (under the Dept. of Interior) manages National PARKS. They are two different federal lands. The author and artist seem to be confusing the two.

anon
anon

The Forest Service (under USDA) manages National FORESTS. The National Park Service (under the Dept. of Interior) manages National PARKS. They are two different federal lands. The author and artist seem to be confusing the two.

dbtst
dbtst

Thanks for putting up a fight Forest Service, I never would have known about these without you. For all those interested, the t-shirts are available on ETSY.

GFlakeGasWatch
GFlakeGasWatch

The Forest Service and all images belong to the people. They have no right to say how and where its used.

Christopher Brown
Christopher Brown

She can/should be sued for the use of the image and slogan. get her!

l_desimone1
l_desimone1

@Lopi always try to support you! i am in the middle of area that the methane has seeped into my private water well and i have fought this unregulated old wells as well as the corrupt drilling political people who run the area, I am broke from 2 cancer operations and no family to speak of, so I hope you can keep on fighting! most or all of the people here fighting this are either retired or broke or blackballed as i am for trying to find any type of work, but i feel the harrassment here is just to get me  to walk away since i am surrounded by people who signed leases, whether they use eminent domain or just somehow try to kill us here like they did to Silkwood, the women years ago. I hope you can really go foward and talk to Josh Fox he lives in Brooklyn NY since the township supervisors here in damascus I believe, burned part of his house down. i always fear they will do that to me, I would like to get out of here but have several pets and am in debt cant even come up with the $1,300 for bankrupsy attorney, need any type of job that will give me that I will even pay anybody back at 75.00 a month if I"m not working and more if I do find work. just email me or facebook me am afraid to publicly give you email on here. let me know thanks and keep on fighting!

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