Research Press Release

Environment: Barriers preventing prescribed burns for California wildfire management identified

Nature Sustainability

January 21, 2020

Three types of sociopolitical barriers preventing the widespread application of prescribed burns for wildfire management in California - risk-related, resource-related and regulations-related - are identified in a paper published in Nature Sustainability. Prescribed burns are fires purposefully set under controlled conditions to clear ground fuels, and have been shown to be an efficient method of wildfire prevention.

Catastrophic wildfires have increased in the western United States and all over the world in recent years. These fires stem from a combination of climate change, which has heightened hot and dry conditions, historic fire-suppression policies, which have enabled a century of accumulation of fuel (wood and other plant material), and insufficient treatment of fuel. Twenty million acres of forestland in California could benefit from prescribed burns or other fuel treatment options.

Rebecca Miller and colleagues analysed state legislation, prescribed burn records and transcripts from interviews with 45 key participants in California’s prescribed burn conversations in order to understand exactly what is preventing widespread deployment of this type of wildfire management. The authors found that risk-related barriers, such as the fear of liability and negative public perceptions, prevent landowners from beginning the burn planning process. Resource-related barriers - including limited funding, crew availability and experience - as well as regulations-related barriers - poor weather conditions for burning and environmental regulations - also prevent landowners from conducting burns, which creates a gap between planning and implementation.

The authors conclude that fundamental shifts in prescribed burn policies are needed to address wildfires in California and worldwide.

doi:10.1038/s41893-019-0451-7

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