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Only you (almost) can put Smokey Bear on Washington license plates

Putting iconic bear on specialty plate will require public and lawmaker support

A Smokey Bear sign propped up in the ground over scorched acreage at the Okanogan Complex Fire.
A Smokey Bear sign stands vigil over scorched acreage at the Okanogan Complex Fire near Omak, Okanogan County. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz pitched a new specialty license plate with the iconic bear on it, reading “Only you can prevent wildfires.” (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
By Jerry Cornfield Washington State Standard

Washington drivers could one day be carrying Smokey Bear’s image and message on their license plates to help reduce the number of wildfires started by people.

An effort launched Monday, Nov. 20 would create a specialty license plate featuring the iconic bear and its hallmark slogan: “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Proceeds from sales of the plates would go to public education programs focused on wildfire prevention, administered through the state Department of Natural Resources.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz made the pitch Monday inside a Pierce County fire station alongside firefighters, state lawmakers and someone in a Smokey costume. 

“We know that wildfires are only growing more frequent and their geography is growing farther,” Franz said, noting that roughly 80% of wildfires this year were caused by people. “I do believe that this license plate and the ability to educate a broad group of our state will actually be lifesaving.”

It’s a long road. Backers must first submit a petition with 3,500 signatures to the Department of Licensing for the agency to even consider a new specialty plate. Those interested can sign the petition online at

Then, legislation allowing for the plate needs to get approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor. 

Democratic state Sen. T’wina Nobles of Fircrest, and Rep. Brandy Donaghy of unincorporated Snohomish County, said Monday they will sponsor Smokey Bear license plate bills in 2024.

Donaghy said acquiring a plate is something “we can do to decrease wildfires and keep people safe. Every day, this is a reminder that there is work we can do to help those who help us.”

If successful, Washington would join Oregon and Texas with Smokey Bear plates.

The political path won’t be easy. Bills for four other specialty plates are already vying for lawmakers’ approval.

One celebrates pickleball, the official state sport. Another pays tribute to Mount St. Helens, the state’s most active volcano. A third recognizes LeMay-America’s car museum in Tacoma, where classic cars are always on display. The fourth would support small forest landowners and working forests.

Last session, the state Senate overwhelmingly backed the pickleball and Mount St. Helens plates. But the House didn’t take action on those, or the other proposals.

“I love pickleball. But I got to tell you Smokey the Bear, his value and his message and the importance of this, I think is far more significant,” Franz said.

“This license plate is something everybody should get behind to help educate every single resident of Washington no matter what age they are that they too can be part of our firefighting force by not starting fires,” she said.

Even if signatures are gathered and a law signed, getting plates made may take a while.

The state Department of Licensing has posted on its website that production issues are causing “significant delays in our ability to issue personalized and specialty plates.”

“Due to this delay, you may want to consider waiting to apply for a personalized or specialty plate,” it continues. “We don’t have a timeline for when production delays will return to normal.”

Washington State Standard is an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces original reporting on policy and politics.

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