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Putting people first: Using social science to reduce risk

Author(s): Patricia A. Champ, Christopher M. Barth, Hannah Brenkert-Smith, Lilia C. Falk, Jamie Gomez, James R. Meldrum
Year Published: 2021

The director of West Region Wildfire Council stood before council for the Town of Mountain Village in southwest Colorado with community social data in hand. Over the course of the next hour, Lilia Falk presented key points that refuted the dominant assumption that local residents were not concerned about wildfire, nor were they willing to cut down trees on their properties to mitigate wildfire risk.

Falk’s data from a 2014 community survey showed that most Town of Mountain Village residents were indeed willing to remove trees to reduce wildfire risk. However, almost half of the residents viewed local homeowner association restrictions on tree cutting as a barrier. The availability and presentation of locally relevant social science did two things: first, it changed the conversation in the community; second, it identified a path forward for the town council. The lesson learned? Locally tailored social science can foster needed transformations in local and regional conversations about new, sustainable pathways toward reducing wildfire risk to communities.

Wildland-urban interface residents, who occupy the areas where wildlands meet and mix with human development, are both contributors to and recipients of the disastrous effects of wildland fires. They contribute through fire starts, flammable homes, unmitigated properties, opposition to mitigation on nearby public lands, and land use planning efforts. We argue that successful, sustainable wildland fire solutions are only possible if the WUI residents are engaged. In this article, we describe an evidence-based quantitative social science model to illustrate how to put people at the center of wildland fire solutions. Our hope is to spur greater use of social science in evidence-based wildland fire programs.

Citation: Champ, Patricia; Barth, Christopher; Brenkert-Smith, Hannah; Falk, Lilia; Gomez, Jamie; Meldrum, James. 2021. Putting people first: Using social science to reduce risk. Missoula, MT: International Association of Wildland Fire, Wildfire Magazine. Online: https://www.iawfonline.org/article/putting-people-first-using-social-science-to-reduce-risk/.
Topic(s): Human Dimensions of Fire Management, Wildland Urban Interface
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 23365
Record updated: Aug 2, 2021