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Forest Disturbance Processes

Public Perceptions of Fire Mitigation on Public Lands

[photo:] Prairie burn to stimulate new growth and recycle nutrients at Konza Biological Research Station, Manhattan, KS (photo by Jeff Vanuga).Research Issue

Fire management agencies across the U.S. sometimes deliberately set controlled fires and may remove wildfire fuel like downed trees, selected live trees, and dead vegetation on public lands.  These fuels thinning strategies can help reduce the severity and extent of wildfire but they are often not well understood by the public.

Our Research

We conducted public opinion research in communities near national forests in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. We asked for residents’ perspectives on (1) fuel reduction practices and related risks, (2) confidence in the U.S. Forest Service to effectively implement treatments, and (3) interactions between the Forest Service and forest communities.

We found that there is strong support for prescribed fire and fuel removal treatments.  In fact, most participants believed that these practices are necessary. However, ratings of US Forest Service were low at all three study sites.  In particular, participants expressed doubt that managers can safely use prescribed fire. Overall, Minnesota residents had the fewest concerns and Michigan respondents had the most.

Expected Outcomes

Our results show that residents near national forests in the Great Lake states are aware of the fire risk and generally support agency initiatives to reduce the fire risk. However, the research also suggests that positive interactions between residents and agency personnel can foster greater support for fire mitigation activities.

Research Results

Shindler, Bruce A.; Toman, Eric; McCaffrey, Sarah M. 2009. Public perspectives of fire, fuels, and the Forest Service in the Great Lakes Region: a survey of citizen-agency communication and trust. International Journal of Wildland Fire 18: 157-164.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Bruce A. Shindler, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University

Research Partners

  • Sarah McCaffrey, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Eric Toman, School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University

Last Modified: 10/18/2010