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The Conservation Reserve Program and Wildfire: Incentive-based Conservation in a Context of Uncertainty

Authors: Audrey Joslin*, Kansas State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: grasslands, ranching, wildfire, conservation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

During the spring seasons of 2016 and 2017, wildfires burned nearly 1 million acres across southern Kansas. In both cases, ranchers in the region were devastated. The wildfires burned away not only buildings and fencing, but killed thousands of livestock and left pastures in ashes. One response of the US Department of Agriculture was to authorize grazing and haying within enrolled Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands. In the wake of wildfires, the CRP-enrolled grasslands appear as a tool for wildfire relief for ranchers by providing lands for emergency grazing and haying without penalties. Yet, recent reports also indicate that ranchers may choose to discontinue enrollment in the CRP program because they fear increased wildfire hazards from CRP lands that may promote the growth of flammable brush. This pilot study draws upon interviews in Meade, Clark, and Comanche counties to examine how wildfire interacts with the incentive mechanisms with the CRP program. Specifically, this research assesses the experience and range of perceptions regarding CRP land interactions with wildfire and outcomes to broader land management practices in and around CRP lands. Findings indicate that local ranchers largely perceive CRP to be a significant source of wildfire hazard, however these perceptions are not the primary factor driving future enrollment decisions. These perceptions of hazard, however, have caused many ranchers to shift land management practices on adjacent land or engage in contract violations on CRP land to reduce wildfire threats.

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