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Local Ecological Knowledge and Fire Management: What Does the Public Understand?

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As fire management agencies seek to implement more flexible fire management strategies, local understanding and support for these strategies become increasingly important. One issue associated with implementing more flexible fire management strategies is educating local populations about fire management and identifying what local populations know or do not know related to fire management. This study used survey data from three 2010 wildland fires to understand how ecological knowledge and education level affected fire management perception and understanding. Results indicated that increased accuracy in identifying ecological conditions was associated with higher proficiencies in the identification of fire management strategies used for wildfires. Education levels were not significantly related to public perception of fire management but were related to significant differences in accurately identifying ecological conditions. Results suggest that education may play a mediating role in understanding complex wildfire issues but is not associated with a better understanding of fire management.

Management and Policy Implications: Multiple wildfire management strategies, beyond suppression only, will be needed to address the challenges of large wildfires if we want to create wildfire-resilient landscapes and communities. More flexible fire management means the ability to implement multiple strategies dependent on factors such as fire risk, fire behavior, and ecological conditions. Knowledge about ecological characteristics can provide a framework for interpreting and responding to feedback from the local environment to guide the direction of resource management. This research suggests that increasing knowledge about ecological characteristics may increase a community's understanding of the actual strategy used to manage wildfire response, which is an important step to provide more flexible fire management options for wildfire resilient communities. The policy implication from this research is that efforts to increase locals' understanding about ecological conditions could result in greater tolerance for and appreciation of different fire management strategies. Important activities that could increase knowledge of ecological conditions include collaborative planning, implementation, and adaptive management through the sharing of lessons learned via a range of engagement and communication media. These joint problem-solving activities provide land and fire managers the opportunity to work with residents to improve understanding of land uses, management goals, and strategies.
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Keywords: community resilience; ecological systems; education; fire management; large wildfires

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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