WASHINGTON, JULY 11, 2012 AT 3:30 PM EDT - U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today officially honored a Westfield, N.J., fifth grader as this year’s grand prize winner in the 2012 Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl Poster Contest co-sponsored with the National Garden Clubs Inc.
Tidwell presented Caroline Tan with a trophy, a framed copy of her art, and a Smokey Bear doll for her winning watercolor that depicts a young Smokey Bear, shovel in hand, using a hose to douse flames on a national forest. Smokey’s motto, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires!” is printed across the top of the artwork. Shirley Nicolai, president of the National Garden Clubs, presented Caroline with $100 and a certificate.
“Given the severity of the wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico, it is more important than ever to understand the importance of fire safety and conservation in the outdoors,” Tidwell said. “Caroline’s poster is a great example of the role children can play in helping to protect our national forests and grasslands. Education is the first step.”
Caroline also received round-trip airfare to Washington, D.C., and accommodations for her and her parents to attend the ceremony in the nation’s Capitol. She and her family, including parents John Tan and Karen Li, toured Forest Service Headquarters and planned visits to landmarks around the city.
“I love the forest and animals, and I want people to care about them,” said Caroline, who began art classes at the age of 4. “Little animals, like squirrels and birds, can’t find shelter or food because the trees are gone. They will soon die. If we prevent wildfires, this will not happen. Our world will be beautiful with green and lively with animals again.”
Caroline’s art was chosen from among 22,000 entries. She took top honors in the fifth-grade category before being named the national winner. Other grade level winners are Georgia Raguz, Highland Heights, Ohio, first grade; Amir Mohaideen, Royal Palm Beach, Fla., second grade; Emma Henry, Brinkley, Ark., third grade; and Collin Sharp, Water Valley, Miss., fourth grade.
Children who entered the contest were asked to design posters that include Smokey Bear’s fire prevention message of “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires!” or Woodsy Owl’s conservation message of “Lend a Hand, Care for the Land!” The posters, which can be used in promotional material for the agency, encourage children to take a personal role in preventing wildfires or conserving natural resources.
The Forest Service reaches more than 4.5 million children through various education programs, including Smokey Bear’s wildfire prevention and Woodsy Owl’s conservation campaigns. For more than 50 years the agency has partnered with the National Garden Clubs, which has organized and promoted the contest. The not-for-profit educational organization has nearly 200,000 members, with clubs in 50 states and the National Capital Area.
The contest is an example of a variety of recreation and conservation education programs that support two key priorities: President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative that seeks to connect people to the outdoors and creates partnerships between the federal government and American communities on conservation issues; and the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Outside! campaign, which strives to offset childhood obesity issues through outdoor activities and healthier lifestyles.