CompassLive Science Shorts

Wildfire Recovery Hot Moments

This study explores how communities can make choices that will reduce future fire risk and boost resiliency. Photo by Kyle Kuester, Bureau of Land Management.

Disasters can be catalysts for change. As wildfires become more common, an emerging objective is to make communities fire-adapted, where ecological benefits of fire can be realized while minimizing threats to life and property. Yet questions remain as to when and how such community change takes place.

Recent research by Ronald Schumann of University of North Texas and partners, including USDA Forest Service scientists Miranda Mockrin of the Northern Research Station and Cassandra Johnson Gaither of the Southern Research Station, presents a linked, social-ecological model of community recovery and adaptation after disaster. The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center provided funding for the project.

“This research is novel in that it examines how the choices people make in both the pre- and post-fire period determine future resiliency to wildfire events,” says Johnson Gaither.

The researchers drew on existing literature on disaster vulnerability, recovery, and wildfire ecology to tease out the factors at play during post-fire recovery and adaptation. They contend that changes during post-fire recovery shape a community’s vulnerability to the next wildfire event.

Johnson Gaither notes, “New or modified policies and practices can lessen wildfire risk over time, or communities may choose to repeat the status quo, which does little to reduce fire risk.”

The team found that local communities typically invest in enhanced suppression, emergency response, and education after wildfire. However, larger changes to land use planning and regulations rarely occur after wildfires.

This study draws attention to crucial windows of opportunity – or hot moments – for change after a wildfire event. The responses within these moments can set the stage for recovery from future wildfires.

Read the article in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. For more information, contact Cassandra Johnson Gaither at cassandra.johnson@usda.gov.

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