AREC Associate Professor Becky Epanchin-Niell on Social and Ecological Impacts on Wildfire Governance

March 27, 2023

Wildfire presents a classic cross-boundary landscape management challenge, as wildfire and wildfire risk span jurisdictions. Cooperation across jurisdictional boundaries thus has potential to improve wildfire outcomes through coordination of activities, pooling of resources, sharing of information, and more rapid fire response. However, coordination also involves tradeoffs, as it takes time and resources. Understanding factors associated with coordination among entities in a fire-prone landscape can help inform more effective polycentric governance for healthy forests and communities. In recent research, a team of researchers, including UMD’s Becky Epanchin-Niell, examined social and ecological factors associated with cooperation across jurisdictions to address wildfire risk in the western US. The team surveyed land management and other relevant organizations within and around Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California where wildfire risk is high. Participants were asked about which entities they partnered with to address wildfire risk and their perceptions of each entities’ fire risk, fire management capacities, and quality of information provisioning.  Using quantitative network models, the research team assessed the patterns of coordination and found that entities were more likely to form network ties with (i.e. partner with) others that faced similar levels of fire risk and were rated higher by their peers in terms of operational capacity to “prevent ignition or limit the spread of a large fire.” Thus, entities were more likely to coordinate with those that faced similar challenges and who could offer greater returns in terms of potential for risk reduction. While specific to the focal study region, these results provide insight into factors associated with coordination across large landscapes for managing hazards in natural systems. Read More