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You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs /Forest Disturbance Processes /Science to support the National Fire and Fuels Strategy / Social Aspects of Creating Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs)
Forest Disturbance Processes

Social Aspects of Creating Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs)

[photo:] This California house’s architectural design helps it resist fire. It is also made of fire-resistant building materials and has fire-wise vegetation in its landscaping.Research Issue

In 2003, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) called for U.S. communities at risk of wildfire to develop Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs).  What can we learn from the different communities that have created CWPPs?

Our Research

We have done a series of studies on the social aspects of creating CWPPs.  In one, we examined case-study communities to see if the process of developing a CWPP had effects beyond the plan itself.  We found that community social networks were generally expanded and strengthened during the CWPP development process.  In addition, there was a positive atmosphere around learning together and sharing information.  CWPP development helped some communities build what is known as "community capacity" – the ability of the community to meet residents’ day-to-day needs.

In a second study, we analyzed whether and how communities in the eastern U.S. were identifying wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas – parts of the landscape where natural areas meet up with built structures.  In communities with CWPPs, the HFRA allows local governments to influence actions on adjacent public lands if the CWPP identifies local WUI boundaries. The WUI policy incentive was not used in every CWPP that we examined.  This suggests that the incentive is not as useful in the eastern U.S., where public land is less common and perceived fire risk is lower than in the West.

In the third study, we were interested in whether or not local communities can successfully be forced to work together by a policy like the HFRA.  We examined documents and conducted in-depth interviews with people who had participated in developing CWPPs in three case-study communities. We found that the requirement to work together influenced the CWPP development process and the ways that people learned from each other.

Expected Outcomes

CWPPs are relatively new in the U.S. and few communities have experienced wildfires since creating CWPPs.  As more communities complete the process of creating CWPPs – and put them into action before, during, and after wildfires – we can learn from their successes and missteps.

Research Results

Brummel, R.F.; Nelson, K.C.; Souter, S.G.; Jakes, P.J.; Williams, D.R. 2010. Social learning in a policy-mandated collaboration: Community wildfire protection planning in the eastern United States. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 53(6): 681-699.

Grayzeck-Souter, S. A.; Nelson, K. C.; Brummel, R. F.; Jakes, P.; Williams, D. R. 2009. Interpreting federal policy at the local level: the wildland-urban interface concept in wildfire protection planning in the eastern United States.   International Journal of Wildland Fire 18: 278-289.

Jakes, P.; Burns, S.; Cheng, A.; Saeli, E.; Brummel, R.; Nelson, K.; Grayzeck, S.; Sturtevant, V.; Williams, D. 2007. Critical elements in the development and implementation of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs). In: Butler, Bret W.; Cook, Wayne, comps. The Fire Environment--Innovations, Management, and Policy; conference proceedings. Proceedings RMRS-P-46CD. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. CD-ROM. p. 613-624.

Research Participants

  • Pamela Jakes, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Sam Burns, Research Director, Office of Community Services, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO
  • Antony Cheng, Professor of Forestry and Natural Resource Policy, Colorado State University, Fort Collins
  • Stephanie Grayzeck-Souter, Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
  • Kristen Nelson, Professor of Human Dimensions, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
  • Victoria Sturtevant, Professor of Sociology at Southern Oregon University, Ashland
  • Daniel Williams, Research Social Scientist, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service,  Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Rachel Brummel, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
  • Emily Saeli, Graduate Research Assistant, Colorado State University, Fort Collins

Last Modified: 10/18/2010

Featured Publication

Jakes, P.; Burns, S.; Cheng, A.; Saeli, E.; Brummel, R.; Nelson, K.; Grayzeck, S.; Sturtevant, V.; Williams, D. 2007. Critical elements in the development and implementation of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs). In: Butler, Bret W.; Cook, Wayne, comps. The fire environment--innovations, management, and policy; conference proceedings. 26-30 March 2007; Destin, FL. Proceedings RMRS-P-46CD. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. CD-ROM. p. 613-624.