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Scientists & Staff

Sarah McCaffrey

Sarah M. McCaffrey

Research Forester
People and Their Environments: Social Science Supporting Natural Resource Management and Policy
1033 University Place, Suite 360
Evanston, Illinois 60201-3172
Phone: 847-866-9311 x20

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Current Research

I conduct and coordinate research to better understand the social dynamics of fire management. I am currently responsible for a National Fire Plan grant examining social acceptability of fuels treatment methods. We have initiated almost two dozen studies in a variety of ecological and geographical settings across the country, examining a range of topics including what shapes acceptability of prescribed fire and thinning, why people do or do not implement defensible space practices, and social issues around post-fire restoration. I also am part of the Fuels Planning synthesis project, a national effort to synthesize current scientific knowledge on fuels treatments from both the ecological and social perspectives and provide it to managers in accessible format.

Research Interests

I plan on continuing to explore issues around the social dynamics of fire management. Areas where I am exploring possible research projects include biomass utilization, effectiveness of initiatives to foster management across boundaries such as The Nature Conservancy's Fire Learning Network, and issues related to institutional knowledge and organizational effectiveness. I also hope to develop collaborative research with scientists in other countries with wildfire issues.

Why This Research is Important

Social dynamics are a key part of fire management. No matter how ecologically and technically sound and well planned a treatment, its ultimate implementation will be highly dependant on public acceptance of the efforts. As more people move into high fire hazard areas, their active involvement in fire management will be central to successful efforts to reduce the hazard. As such, understanding their relevant beliefs and expectations, of the landscape and of land management agencies, will be crucial information for managers in developing effective plans to mitigate the fire hazard. My research helps clarify the reality behind much of the conventional wisdom about public beliefs actions in relation to fire and fuels management and what shapes those beliefs and actions. Having a clear and accurate conception of public's views can help ensure that managers' limited resources are directed in the most effective manner.


  • University Of California--Berkeley, Ph.D. Wildland Resource Science, 2002
  • University Of California--Berkeley, M.S. Wildland Resource Science, 1995
  • Stanford University, B.A. International Relations, 1986

Professional Organizations

  • Society of American Foresters
  • International Association of Wildland Fire
  • Society and Natural Resources

Publications & Products

National Research Highlights

Identifying Policy Tools That Encourage Community-Level Defensible Space in Six U.S. Communities (2014)
A Forest Service scientist and partners assessed outreach programs in six different communities and identified outreach tools that were effective in encouraging defensible space. Community members and agency personnel who are seeking to engage residents to reduce individual and collective wildfire risk can be guided by these findings. Understanding the diversity of approaches and activities that have fostered mitigation can help managers choose what will work best for their specific communities.

Impediments to Woody Biomass Utilization on Federal Lands (2011)
Efforts to increase woody biomass utilization have met with limited succes

Improving Knowledge of Public Information Needs During a Wildfire (2013)
Although fire managers actively work to provide information to the public during wildfires, little research has been conducted to understand whether this information fulfills public needs. Research by a Forest Service scientists shows the importance of up-to-date, locally-specific information that helps those threatened by fire make sense of their complex situation and determine protective actions they need to undertake. It also shows that evacuees have greater information needs, exhibit more active information seeking behavior, and show a greater reliance on interactive information sources than non-evacuees.

What Motivates Homeowners To Mitigate Fire Risk (2011)
In working to foster fire-adapted communities, individuals and organization need to understand the dynamics of public support for fuels management on private and public land. A Forest Service research study on homeowner support for defensible space, thinning, and prescribed fire found that that most homeowners are supportive. They appreciated, understood, and supported the need for both individual and agency action to mitigate the fire risk, a more positive picture of public response to the wildfire problem than is often assumed.

Last updated on : 30-Sep-2015