Citizen perspectives on hazardous fuel reduction in the Blue Mountains : findings and implications from panel research Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/2v23vz749

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  • Forests in the Blue Mountains region of eastern Oregon and Washington are facing a large-scale forest health crisis. Poor forest conditions have greatly increased the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Resource managers in the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, and Malheur National Forests are utilizing prescribed fire and mechanized thinning treatments to reduce hazardous fuel loads and restore forest health. While it is generally recognized that social data must be included in resource management decisions there is still a lack of knowledge about public responses to forest conditions and forest practices. In particular, although considerable research has focused on the biological effects of hazardous fuel reduction techniques relatively few studies have addressed public acceptance of these practices. Fuel reduction projects and information programs within the Blue Mountains region provide an opportunity to examine citizen perspectives on the legitimacy of these practices and the effectiveness of informational messages. This report presents a summary of research conducted in 2000/2001 in Blue Mountain communities. This current study replicates research conducted in 1996 (Shindler and Reed 1996), by resurveying the same individuals about the same forest conditions and management practices, while also including a new line of inquiry to examine more recent concerns expressed by forest managers (e.g., smoke, agency outreach programs, and citizen-agency interactions). This type of longitudinal research is particularly useful because it allows the identification of shifts in public attitudes and behaviors and recognition of the factors that influence individual actions. The study used a mail questionnaire to elicit responses from panel members. Panel members consisted of respondents to Shindler and Reed's 1996 survey of Blue Mountain residents. The questionnaire focused on general perceptions of forest conditions and forest management, knowledge of prescribed fire and mechanized thinning treatments, the usefulness of general information sources and specific Forest Service outreach programs, public attitudes prescribed fire and mechanized thinning, and preferences for public involvement in forest management decisions. Several key findings emerge from the data. First, although respondents are supportive of both prescribed fire and thinning practices, support is much greater for mechanized thinning treatments. Second, respondents are generally knowledgeable about prescribed fire and thinning effects; however, some misperceptions exist with key treatment objectives. Third, citizens find interactive educational programs (e.g., personal conversations, guided field trips, school education programs) more useful than uni-directional programs (e.g., newsletters, brochures, environmental impact statements). Fourth, while attitudes toward the use of prescribed fire and mechanized thinning remained relatively constant throughout the study period, findings indicate a declining relationship between the Forest Service and Blue Mountain residents. These findings suggest three strategies essential to continued public support of fuel reduction practices. First, capitalize on existing public knowledge and support. Data indicate an existing base of well-informed, supportive stakeholders that could be a central asset in building future management programs. Second, focus on relations with citizens. Findings suggest that filtering out national issues to focus on local problems and increasing opportunities for meaningful citizen involvement in fire management planning will be particularly useful to improving citizen-agency relations. Third, develop a comprehensive communication strategy. As suggested by this study, a successful strategy will not only consist of information provision but will also focus on the process of how people come to understand forest conditions and support policies.
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