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Managing Fire Danger in the Forests of the US Inland Northwest: A Classic “Wicked Problem” in Public Land Policy

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In their classic article Allen and Gould (Allen, G.M., and E.M. Gould. 1986. Complexity, wickedness, and public forests. J. For. 84(4):20–24) stated that the most daunting problems associated with public forest management had a “wicked” element: “Wicked problems share characteristics. Each can be considered as simply a symptom of some higher order problem…. The definition is in the mind of the beholder…. Furthermore, there is no single correct formulation for a wicked problem, only more or less useful ones” (p. 22). This description seems to fit the difficulties associated with managing the increasing risk of wildland fire in the United States. Using the Inland Northwest region of the United States as an example, we explore the dynamics of this issue as they relate to possible improvements and the inherent dilemmas. We conclude that any “solutions” to the problems associated with fire danger are best thought of in terms of long-term system improvements rather than short-term fixes.

Keywords: fire; prescribed burning; thinning; wicked problems; wildland urban interface

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2007

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Forestry is the most widely circulated scholarly forestry journal in the world. In print since 1902, the Journal has received several national awards for excellence. The mission of the Journal of Forestry is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry: economics, education and communication, entomology and pathology, fire, forest ecology, geospatial technologies, history, international forestry, measurements, policy, recreation, silviculture, social sciences, soils and hydrology, urban and community forestry, utilization and engineering, and wildlife management. The Journal is published bimonthly: January, March, May, July, September, and November.
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