USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
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Research Topics

Recreation: Social Aspects of Fire

Californian's perceptions of fire and fire management

A statewide survey of California residents was recently completed, in cooperation with San Diego State University and supported by National Fire Plan research funds. Fire management is of great interest in the west, in part due to the high cost of fire suppression; and social values play an important role in fire management.

The sample was stratified by geographic region in the state and by gender. The final cooperation rate was 83.9%. Data were weighted to match the population in each region, based on a total of 606 usable surveys.

Most respondents were concerned about wildland and wilderness fires in the state (mean of 6.27 on a scale from 1=not at all concerned, 8=very concerned), though they saw others as less so (mean of 5.28). It may be quite true that respondents were more concerned about fires, since they took the time to participate in our survey. However, it is also the case that individuals tend to view themselves more positively than how they see others (the self-serving bias).

The greatest percentage agreed that "we probably have to let some fires burn, but must protect residences" (60.1%), although about one-third agreed with the statement "all fires must be extinguished regardless of cost" (31.5%). Very few (5.4%) thought "fires must be allowed to take their natural course...even if structures are involved."

A series of statements about fire were rated as true or false, for example the vast majority (90.5%) felt that "controlled burns reduce the risk of larger, uncontrolled fires".

Possible management techniques for wildland and wilderness fires were rated for expected effectiveness and approval. In order of greatest to least expected effectiveness were closures of areas, prescribed burns, signs in recreation settings, restrictions on types of use (e.g., fires only in fire rings), mechanical techniques such as chipping, and bans on mechanically based recreation. Approval ratings from highest to lowest were signs, closures, restrictions, burns, mechanical techniques such as chipping, and bans.

Trust in the Forest Service's efforts to manage forest fires was fairly high (6.8 on scale from 1=do not trust the FS at all, to 8=trust the FS completely).

These opinions are helpful in understanding public perceptions of, and reactions to fire management.

Publications and Products related to this subject:

Winter, P.L. 2002. Californians' opinions on the management of wildland and wilderness fires. Unpublished report. Riverside, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture. 42 p.

Winter, P.L. 2003. Californians' opinions on wildland and wilderness fire management. In Jakes, P.J. (comp). Homeowners, communities, and wildfire: Science findings from the National Fire Plan: Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium on Society and Resource Management; 2002 June 2-5; Bloomington, IN. General Technical Report NC-231. St. Paul, MN: North Central Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture: p. 84-92.

Research conducted by:
Last Modified: Aug 29, 2016 11:04:14 AM