Firescapes in the mid-Atlantic: Mismatches between social perceptions and prescribed fire use

Authors: Erica Smithwick*, , Katherine Zipp, The Pennsylvania State University, Hong Wu, The Pennsylvania State University, Margot Kaye, The Pennsylvania State University, Alan Taylor, The Pennsylvania State University, Peter Newman, The Pennsylvania State University, Anthony Zhao, The Pennsylvania State University, Ellen Thurston, The Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Environmental Science, Hazards and Vulnerability, Biogeography
Keywords: pyrogeography, fire, social perceptions, land management, landscape ecology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Riverview II, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Fire in forested ecosystems is a key natural disturbance and a valued management tool. However, little is known about social barriers and facilitators that influence prescribed fire implementation in the northeastern U.S., where we hypothesize that there are spatially and temporally contextualized mismatches between community perceptions of fire behavior, ecological impacts, and prescribed fire operations. To test this, we used online, mail, as well as trail intercept surveys in two regions in the Mid-Atlantic, one in which restrictions on fire management have been recently relaxed, leading to new management opportunities (Pennsylvania), versus another one in which fire management has a long history (New Jersey Pine Barrens). We also compared fire activity in both regions based on fire incidence reports. Despite general expectations that communities are less familiar with fire in the eastern U.S. compared to those in the western U.S., our results indicate that communities in both locations are aware of, and accepting of, fire management activities. Recreational preferences and perceptions of fire risk underlie how individuals interpret fire management needs, with the relative importance differing across the region. Fire management activity is strongly governed by land jurisdiction, more so than ecological context. Overall, our work indicates strong geographic patterns in socio-ecological firescapes in the mid-Atlantic, which should be included in fire management planning.

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