Firewise Actions Depend on Trust
Trust has been identified by federal agencies as a critical component in working with communities and individuals on fire risk mitigation, but it is an abstract concept that needs to be linked to specific actions and behavior on the ground. This study furthers our understanding of key questions about how much homeowners trust Firewise information, how they view the competency of those who provide Firewise information, and how trust influences homeowners' decisions to take Firewise steps. Using data from a mail survey with rural landowners in heavily forested counties along the Front Range of Colorado, Absher and Vaske measured respondents' trust in information that the USDA Forest Service provided and perceptions of the agency's competency in responding to fires and conducting other prescribed burns and thinning. Next, respondents were asked about: 1) the perceived effectiveness of a set of Firewise actions, 2) previous Firewise actions taken, and 3) intentions to complete Firewise actions in the future.
They found that trust in Forest Service information and competence was relatively high - 82% to 87% agreement on the trustworthiness of the information and 64% to 85% agreement on the competency of the agencies to handle fires and fuels projects. In addition, respondents perceived the surveyed Firewise actions as effective in reducing fire risk and most had taken at least a few of the steps and intended to take further actions.
However, further analysis revealed a complex relationship between the trust factors and past and intended actions. They found that the perceived effectiveness of actions predicted most of the recent Firewise actions and that past Firewise actions were the greatest predictor of future actions. As measured, trust itself had little observable influence on either past actions or intended actions.
The practical lesson to be drawn from this study is that efforts designed to get people to take at least the minimal Firewise steps can lead to further, more significant actions over the long-term. Also, the findings do not discount the value of trust in affecting those decisions. Specific communities may have very different pathways to loss mitigation.
Forest Service Partners