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Risk Perceptions and Support for Management Regimes in Wildland-Urban Interface Zones: A Comparative Analysis of Wildfire Policy and Citizen Response in the Intermountain West

Deserai Anderson Crow

Wildfire has long existed as a natural component of an ecosystem. However, due to many years of fire suppression policy alongside increasingly dry conditions, the western United States is experiencing some of the biggest and most severe wildfires in history. In recent years, fires affecting populations along the wildland-urban interface (WUI) have grown in size and destruction, substantially impacting life and property across the West. Western states are experiencing significant population growth and development combined with prolonged drought conditions and predictions of climate change that indicate increasing drought in the West. An area that is geographically and climatically prone to catastrophic wildfires and which also overlaps with high rates of population growth is termed the Red Zone. More fires are expected in the Red Zone in future years, necessitating appropriate and well-informed policy in order to reduce risk to life and property as well as sustain ecological benefits.

Understanding residents’ perceptions of risk and responsibility in regards to fire mitigation and management in the Red Zone is important to shaping policy and land management decisions. Though this is an increasingly urgent topic, little research has been conducted to investigate the nexus between fire and residents’ values, beliefs, and the role of information in promoting support for fire management as well as influencing individual beliefs about the locus of responsibility for fire abatement (local, state, federal government, or individual homeowners). 

With a team of graduate students, this study attempts to gain insight into the role that individual beliefs and external information sources (science, policy/management prescriptions, media coverage, advocacy communication) play in shaping residents’ behavior, risk perception, and policy support regarding fire management in the wildland-urban interface.