Recreation: Social Aspects of Fire
Major Research Initiatives
Southwesterners' Opinions on Wildland and Wilderness Fire Managements
Fire and fire management is of great interest in the southwestern United States, given the incidence of fire in this region, and the mounting costs of suppression and prevention. A previous issue of the update focused on Californians' attitudes about fire and fire management. Here, we feature findings from the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and California. The data were collected through cooperative agreement with San Diego State University and Pat Winter.
While there are similarities across the southwest, significant geographic variations are evident. Respondents shared a concern about wildland and wilderness fires, with the majority selecting above the mid-range on the scale. Concern varied significantly by state however, with Californians' having the lowest concern ratings. Concern tended to be highest among the older respondents, and those who completed the survey in Spanish.
Knowledge about wildland and wilderness fires was, on average, within the neutral range. Californians' had the lowest knowledge ratings, as did our youngest respondents, those who had not visited National Forests, those who completed the survey in Spanish, and those who had not lived in the United States all of their lives.
Respondents tended to trust the Forest Service in its efforts to manage forest fires. However, Californians' tended to trust the Forest Service more than respondents from the other three states, and Arizonans had higher trust of the Forest Service than did respondents from New Mexico. Higher trust was found among those who tended to participate in outdoor recreation less, had not visited National Forests, had completed the survey in Spanish, and had not lived in the United States all of their lives.
General statements about fire, rated as true or false, revealed significant variations by state in five out of nine cases. For example, residents of New Mexico were more likely to rate as true the statement "Controlled burns are likely to burn up more area than planned." These findings suggest it is not sufficient to view public opinion as homogeneous. The geographic variations appear to be linked to dramatic differences in population characteristics, revealing each state's uniqueness. Management strategies, public information, and education efforts, will need to be adjusted based on the unique characteristics of publics.
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