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PERC Podcast: Does public perception of wildfire risk shape policy?

  • Sarah Anderson
  • At PERC’s 2016 Wildfire Solution Summit, political scientist Sarah Anderson shares findings from the Bren School’s Strategic Environmental Research Initiative on Wildfire and Climate Change (SERI Fire).

    Listen to the podcast.

    Politics and the Public in Wildfire Management
    There are technological solutions to many environmental issues, but people and politics get in the way. Wildfire is an increasing problem, both in terms of fire suppression costs and acreage burned. Compounding the challenges of wildland fire management, are predictions of a hotter, drier climate, and more people are moving into the places that burn, the challenge of wildland fire management.

    Does the salience of wildfire risk for the public influence the timing and location of fuels management projects by federal agencies?
    Hypothesis: Recent and close wildfires will drive public attention to fire management and lead to demands for fuels treatments.

    Shortly after a fire, nearby treatment is less important, yet more likely. Careful analysis shows that fuels treatment and fire suppression are almost twice as likely within three years of a fire. As people experience fire in proximity to their homes, they demand more fuels treatment and fire suppression. And where people are wealthier and more educated, and where the congressional representative is on a related committee.

    Related reading:
    Journal Article: “Technical Management in an Age of Openness: The Political, Public, and Environmental Forest Ranger
    by Sarah Anderson, Heather Hodges, and Terry Anderson.

    The modern bureaucracy faces tradeoffs between public and congressional input and agency expertise. The US Forest Service offers an opportunity to quantitatively analyze whether an agency that is required to be more open to the public and congressional input will be forced to ignore its technical expertise in managing resources. This study uses data on 83,000 hazardous fuels reduction activities conducted by the Forest Service from 2001 to 2011. Although the results show that managers are responsive to public and congressional considerations, this has not prevented them from utilizing their technical knowledge to restore lands most deviated from natural conditions. This suggests that managers can balance responsiveness to public and political principals with technically sound management.

    Related viewing:
    Video: An Analysis: Wildfire Management
    Sarah Anderson and Terry Anderson discuss their findings on wildfire management and what drives Forest Service decisions in fuel suppression.

    Listen to more content from the Wildfire Solutions Summit.

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