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Participatory Geographic Information Systems as an Organizational Platform for the Integration of Traditional and Scientific Knowledge in Contemporary Fire and Fuels Management


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Traditional knowledge about fire and its effects held by indigenous people, who are connected to specific landscapes, holds promise for informing contemporary fire and fuels management strategies and augmenting knowledge and information derived from western science. In practice, however, inadequate means to organize and communicate this traditional knowledge with scientists and managers can limit its consideration in decisions, requiring novel approaches to interdisciplinary and cross-cultural communication and collaboration. We propose that Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) is one platform for the assemblage and communication of traditional knowledge vital to fire and fuels management, while preserving linkages to broader cultural contexts. We provide summaries of four preliminary case studies in the Intermountain West of North America to illustrate different potential applications of a PGIS tool in this context and describe some remaining challenges.

Management and Policy Implications: Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) can offer a powerful approach for enhancing current decisionmaking by allowing for the integration of traditional and scientific knowledge systems with spatial environmental data in an interactive participatory process. Integrated data sets can allow traditional and scientific knowledge experts to share, explore, manage, analyze, and interpret multidimensional data in a common spatial context to develop more informed management decisions. Such combined data sets could provide a more comprehensive assessment of fire-related ecological change than is currently used in decisionmaking and enhance inclusion of effects on local resource utility values and areas of cultural significance. The use of a PGIS interface creates opportunities for traditional knowledge holders to share information and potential prescriptions while maintaining confidentiality. Knowledge integration efforts using PGIS as an organizational tool would help to bridge the communication gap that commonly exists between scientists, managers, and traditional knowledge holders as ecosystems continue to be altered through processes of land management and climate change.

Keywords: Participatory Geographic Information Systems; fire and fuels management; indigenous knowledge; traditional knowledge

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 8, 2017

This article was made available online on July 7, 2016 as a Fast Track article with title: "Participatory Geographic Information Systems as an Organizational Platform for the Integration of Traditional and Scientific Knowledge in Contemporary Fire and Fuels Management".

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