Silly String? Forest Service's Idea for Fourth Doesn't Land

Environmental groups question the alternative to fireworks, but like the bigger message
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 2, 2023 1:10 PM CDT
Silly String? Forest Service's Idea for Fourth Takes Flak
A sign makes clear that fireworks are prohibiting in the Sandia Mountains that border Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Friday.   (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Smokey Bear's admonition that "Only you can prevent wildfires" remains, in a time of drought, as important to remember as ever. But it's equally true that only you can prevent forests from being covered with Silly String. US Forest Service managers in the drought-stricken Southwest are urging people to swap their fireworks this Fourth of July for glow sticks, noisemakers, and cans of red, white and blue Silly String. Not so fast, say some environmentalists. While it's worthwhile encouraging folks not to use fireworks considering the escalating wildfire danger, they say it's kind of silly that federal land managers would suggest using aerosol cans of sticky party string out in nature, the AP reports.

The advice began to pop up in recent weeks, with regional forest officials and the New Mexico State Forestry Division pumping out public service announcements offering alternatives aimed at curbing human-sparked blazes. They used a template that echoed similar advice from the National Fire Protection Association and even American Red Cross chapters in other states. "These are alternatives for children and young people to do in lieu of fireworks in their neighborhood or on their property. That way we'd like to keep things contained to your property and your neighborhood," said George Ducker, a spokesman for the State Forestry Division. "We're certainly not advocating folks go out into the forest and, you know, shoot off Silly String."

But if they do, the Forest Service has one request: Leave no trace. However people choose to celebrate, the rules and regulations need to be followed if they are on national forest land, no matter if it's July Fourth or any other day, said John Winn, a spokesman for the federal agency. "That includes but is not limited to the restricted use of fireworks, properly disposing of garbage in garbage bins, maintaining quiet hours and cleaning up after camping or day-use activities," he said. Cleaning up spray streamers fits in that category, he added. Places including Los Angeles have restricted their use after having problems during special events.

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While the spray can party favors have been around since the 1970s, manufacturers keep their recipes under wraps. In general, the string is made of a polymer resin, a substance that makes the resin foam up, a solvent, some coloring, and the propellant that forces the chemicals out of the can. Rebecca Sobel of WildEarth Guardians said party string is just one of the hundreds of seemingly benign products that pervade daily life. "We have to be more vigilant about the chemicals in 'everyday' things," she said. "Maybe the Forest Service should have known better, but it's also hard to know what chemicals some products contain."

(More Fourth of July stories.)

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