Gladys D. Daines is in search of new ideas.

In her corner office in Rosslyn, Daines pores over regulations, artists' drawings and ad copy, trying to figure out how to keep the 40-year-old image of a firefighting bear from growing stale.

Daines is the Smokey Bear program manager for the Agriculture Department's Forest Service. Her job, in effect, is to make sure that people always remember: "Only you can prevent forest fires."

Daines said she took this job 18 months ago after holding other public information and planning positions in the Forest Service because she wanted to do something "fun."

She and her two-person staff are responsible for deciphering and passing federal forestry regulations on to state forest rangers and public service organizations. She works closely with the Advertising Council and the Los Angeles advertising firm of Foote, Cone and Belding, which prepare and promote fire prevention posters, teaching aids and public service announcements for radio and television.

Since Congress passed legislation in 1950, the image of a large brown bear wearing blue jeans and a ranger's hat has been government-owned property. And part of Daines' job is to police the use of the Smokey symbol.

Last year, for instance, a man wearing a homemade Smokey Bear costume was arrested while picketing the White House to protest then-Interior Secretary James G. Watt's policies. ("He didn't realize Smokey was from the Agriculture Department, not Interior," Daines noted.)

Daines said she was called to the White House gates to determine if the man was wearing an official Forest Service bear costume. He wasn't, but Daines still had to write a letter to him, explaining that it is illegal to impersonate Smokey without government permission.

Businesses can use the symbol if they pay the government royalties, which supplement the program's $500,000 annual budget. The fees usually come from souvenir companies with outlets at national parks and campgrounds.

Daines said royalty payments hit a high of $210,000 in 1969 and a low of $40,000 in 1982. She expected the program to bring in $100,000 in fiscal 1984, which ends Sept. 30.

"There comes a time when the public gets used to things," Daines said, explaining the constant challenge of keeping Smokey competitive with newer children's heroes such as the Muppets, the Smurfs and "Star Wars" characters. "Every year we try to come up with a new approach . . . to keep it fresh."

Last year, the Advertising Council produced fire prevention radio spots featuring The Grateful Dead and Barbara Mandrell.

With this year marking the 40th year of the program, the U.S. Postal Service has issued a commemorative Smokey stamp. And Daines is already laying the groundwork for a 50th anniversary celebration at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Forest Service first thought of using a bear as a symbolic firefighter in 1944, adapting a Wartime Advertising Council campaign. California residents were particularly concerned that if the Japanese shelled their coast, precious acres of timber would be destroyed.

In 1950, the Forest Service got a living symbol when forest rangers found a badly burned cub clinging to a charred tree after a fire caused by people ravaged Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico.

Named Smokey after Smokey Joe Martin, a New York City firefighter in the early 1900s, the bear was nursed back to health and taken to the National Zoo, where he died in 1976. His successor was found after a 1971 fire in the same forest.