Wildfires, Communities, and Agencies: Stakeholders' Perceptions of Postfire Forest Restoration and Rehabilitation
After wildfire, land managers are often called on to undertake complex restoration activities while also managing relations with wildfire-devastated communities. This research investigates the community–US Forest Service agency relations in the postwildfire period in three western US communities. In each community, we interviewed key informant representatives from government, business, environmental organizations, and recreation groups and conducted focus groups to gather input from residents located near burn areas. The goal was to understand how forest restoration and rehabilitation efforts and agency outreach were perceived by stakeholders who were recently affected by wildfire and how these perceptions were related to underlying community and fire conditions. Our findings suggest that four vectors interact to determine the level of expectations and need for agency–community engagement in the postfire period: (1) the extent and characteristics of the fire; (2) community economic, recreational, and emotional connection to the forest; (3) the history of agency–community relations; and (4) the level of volunteerism in the community. We provide a schematic of different types of collaboration relevant to the postfire period in which, generally, residents preferred action-oriented collaboration, while other agency personnel were more amenable to collaborative planning. On-the-ground volunteer restoration activities helped restore community spirit and improve agency–community relations, and increased education and outreach were desirable. The model developed in this research argues for agency responses that consider both the social and the ecological communities when planning postfire restoration projects.
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