Wildland Urban Interface
Disturbances such as wildfire are important features of forested landscapes. The trajectory of changes following wildfires (often referred to as landscape recovery) continues to be an important research topic among ecologists and wildfire scientists. However, the landscape recovery process also has important social dimensions that may or may not correspond to ecological or biophysical perspectives. Perceptions of landscape recovery may affect people’s attitudes and behaviors related to forest and wildfire management. We explored the variables that influence people’s perceptions of landscape recovery across 25 fires that occurred in 2011 or 2012 in the United States of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana and that represented a range of fire behavior characteristics and landscape impacts. Residents near each of the 25 fires were randomly selected to receive questionnaires about their experiences with the nearby fire, including perceived impacts and how the landscape had recovered since the fire. People generally perceived landscapes as recovering, even though only one to two years had passed. Regression analysis suggested that perceptions of landscape recovery were positively related to stronger beliefs about the ecological role of fire and negatively related to loss of landscape attachment, concern about erosion, increasing distance from the fire perimeter, and longer lasting fires. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) analysis indicated that the above relationships were largely consistent across fires. These findings highlight that perceptions of post-fire landscape recovery are influenced by more than vegetation changes and include emotional and cognitive factors. We discuss the management implications of these findings.