WWETAC Projects

Project Title: Examining the influence and effectiveness of communication programs and community partnerships on public perceptions of smoke management: A multi-region analysis

JFSP ID: 10-1-03-7

Principal Investigators: Eric Toman, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH; Christine Olsen, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Cooperator: Paige Fischer, Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center, Prineville, OR

Status: Ongoing

E-mail Contact: Eric Toman, toman.10[at]osu.edu

Summary: This project examines how communication programs and fire and fuels-related community partnerships influence public perceptions of smoke management across multiple regions. Using a case study design, we will compare communities where smoke (from wildfire or prescribed fire) has impacted citizens and examine the factors that influence acceptance levels. We will identify communication strategies that were used in relation to smoke, assess community preparedness for fire and presence of partnerships, and explore whether these strategies and partnerships influence citizen tolerance of smoke. Preliminary results will be synthesized and used in a series of behavioral experiments at each study site to assess the influence of different interventions on participants’ attitudes and behaviors towards smoke.

prescribed fire

General Description: Wildland fire and its relationship to forest fuel conditions is a primary challenge for land managers. Wildland fires have been larger and more frequent in the last decade, and prescribed fire is used to treat fuels on millions of acres per year (NIFC 2009). Smoke from fires, prescribed or wild, affects air quality regardless of boundaries, sometimes at great distances. Acceptability of smoke can influence the use of prescribed fire as a management tool and how agencies communicate with communities during wildland fires (Weisshaupt et al. 2005, Taylor et al. 2005, McCaffrey 2006). This project aims to understand how different types of communication programs (e.g., media announcements, on-site bulletin boards, collaborative planning projects) and the presence of fire-related citizen-agency partnerships influence citizen tolerance of smoke. This research topic has been noted as an area of particular interest by the Joint Fire Science Program Smoke Management and Air Quality Roundtables. Moreover, the approach proposed here has received support from resource professionals in multiple locations across the U.S.

Research on the acceptability of prescribed fire has grown in recent years. While acceptance for prescribed fire use has increased across diverse geographic regions (Loomis et al. 2001, Winter et al. 2002, Shindler and Toman 2003, Brunson and Shindler 2004), a major concern that has surfaced over the use of prescribed fire is that of air quality and smoke (Winter et al. 2002, Abrams and Lowe 2005, Brunson and Evans 2005). Indeed, it was noted as a primary concern by residents in the vicinity of an escaped prescribed burn (Brunson and Evans 2005), and remains a concern surrounding wildfires as well (Weisshaupt et al. 2005). Some study participants have even suggested smoke is too significant a concern to consider prescribed fire as a management option (Shindler et al. 2009). In spite of this, few studies have examined citizen tolerance for smoke or what may influence it. One recent study noted a majority of public respondents in Utah, Oregon, and Arizona indicated moderate or great levels of concern about increased levels of smoke as a result of prescribed fires (Brunson and Shindler 2004), while two others revealed smoke may be acceptable depending on the origin of the smoke and if it results in a healthier forest (Shindler and Toman 2003, Weisshaupt et al. 2005). In a rare look at what may influence perceptions of smoke from prescribed fire, one study determined participants were more tolerant after receiving education materials (Loomis et al. 2001). However, research on factors that influence tolerance of smoke (e.g., types of communication strategies used, information conveyed) and the role citizen-agency interactions and relationships play is scarce.

The purpose of this project is to improve our understanding of the factors that influence citizen tolerance of smoke and assess the effectiveness of management interventions, including communication programs, to influence citizen responses. This research will be grounded in the Augmented Risk Information Seeking and Processing model (RISP) that examines the role of information (and the factors that influence information seeking behaviors), beliefs (including trust), attitudes, norms, and perceived behavioral control on behaviors (Figure 1). While this model has not been used to examine the issue of smoke, it has been successfully applied to related environmental risk communication situations (e.g., global climate change, public responses to health and environmental risks in the Great Lakes; Griffin et al., 2002, 2004; Kahlor 2007). Moreover, similar factors (e.g., trust, communication, norms) have been found to influence acceptance of fire and fuels management activities (e.g., Winter et al. 2002, Shindler and Toman 2003, Toman et al. 2005). The RISP model will provide a framework to evaluate the relative influence of these factors regarding tolerance of smoke impacts. Results will help identify those factors that can be influenced by management interventions, such as communication programs. The research team will then develop and test the effectiveness of potential management interventions based on these results.

Smoke Processing Model

This project will have substantial applied and scientific value. Findings will benefit resource managers by providing the first comprehensive examination of citizen acceptance of smoke across multiple geographic regions. Moreover, we will identify factors most likely to influence acceptance levels and examine the effectiveness of management interventions designed to influence those factors. This suite of activities will result in detailed recommendations on how to structure communication strategies and other management interventions regarding smoke emissions. Included in this will be an analysis of the role community partnerships and wildfire preparedness play in forming acceptance levels. These findings will directly JFSP’s request for research on communication, community relationships, and smoke. Findings will make an important scientific and theoretical contribution by applying the Augmented RISP model in the context of understanding and tolerating forest conditions and smoke as a result of prescribed or wildfire. To date, much has been learned from this research to identify several variables that influence citizen acceptance; however, in many cases the relative influence and existing interactions between variables is still unclear. This model has substantial potential to provide an organizing framework for the social science research on wildland fire and fuels management.

Project Objectives:

  1. Identify appropriate research sites where prescribed fires have recently occurred or are planned, or there has recently been a wildland fire. Sites will be chosen to represent a variety of geographic, ecological, and social regions. The intention is to choose sites employing different communication strategies and with varying degrees of preparedness for wildfire and community partnerships. At least three sites will be included in this research (see description of candidate sites below).
  2. Compare perceptions about and tolerance of smoke across multiple regions. The research team will conduct a series of interviews with agency personnel and key community members across locations. These interviews will inform the development of a general population survey that will be replicated across the study sites. Results will enable comparisons across locations to identify similarities and key differences in public understanding, attitudes, and acceptance.
  3. Evaluate factors that influence perceptions of smoke, prescribed fire, fuel reduction, and citizen- agency communication. Grounded in the Augmented RISP social-psychological model, the research team will examine the factors that influence citizen acceptance of smoke within and across locations. The analysis will examine the role of beliefs (including risk perceptions, trust, perceived knowledge, etc.) in influencing information seeking and processing behaviors, norms, and perceived behavioral control on attitudes toward smoke. The analysis will also account for the role of site characteristics, history of citizen-agency interactions and communication strategies, and wildfire preparedness and other important contextual factors in the analysis.
  4. Develop experimental communication approaches and examine their effectiveness. Based on findings to Objective 3, the research team will develop different communication designed to influence those variables most strongly associated with citizen acceptance of smoke. A series of experiments will be conducted with participants to examine the effectiveness of these messages.
  5. Conduct regional workshops to discuss findings and implications with JFSP cooperators and partner groups. This research will be useful if it is relevant to those who can benefit most. We will work with agency partners to conduct workshops and provide technology transfer materials for appropriate audiences (e.g., decision-makers, fire management and outreach personnel, community leaders). Discussion will include how to best use the information resulting from this study.

Background Citations:

Brunson, MW and J Evans. 2005. Badly Burned? Effects of an Escaped Prescribed Burn on Social Acceptability of Wildland Fuels Treatments. Journal of Forestry 103(3): 134-138.

Brunson, MW and BA Shindler. 2004. Geographic Variation in Social Acceptability of Wildland Fuels Management in the Western United States. Society and Natural Resources 17(8): 661-678.

Griffin, RJ, S Dunwoody, and K Neuwirth. 1999. Proposed Model of the Relationship of Risk Information Seeking and Processing to the Development of Preventive Behaviors. Environmental Research Section A 80: S230-S245.

Kahlor, LA. 2007. An Augmented Risk Information Seeking Model: The Case of Global Warming. Media Psychology 10: 414-435.

Loomis, JB, LS Bair, and A Gonzalez-Caban. 2001. Prescribed Fire and Public Support: Knowledge Gained, Attitudes Changed in Florida. Journal of Forestry 99(11): 18-22.

McCaffrey, SM. 2006. Prescribed fire: What influences public approval? In Fire in Eastern Oak Forests: Delivery Science to Land Managers. Proceedings of a Conference. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report GTR-NRS-P-1. Newtown Square, PA: Northern Research Station. Pages 192-198.

NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center). 2009. Wildland Fire Statistics. Accessed November 12. http://www.nifc.gov/fire_info/fire_stats.htm

Shindler, B and E Toman. 2003. Fuel Reduction Strategies in Forest Communities: A Longitudinal Analysis of Public Support. Journal of Forestry 101(6): 8-15.

Shindler, B, E Toman, and S McCaffrey. 2009. Longitudinal Analysis of Public Responses to Wildland Fuel Management: Measures to Evaluate Change and Predict Citizen Behaviors in Agency Decision Processes. Final Project Report to the JFSP, Project Number 06-4-1-26. Accessed November 14. http://www.firescience.gov/projects/06-4-1-26/project/06-4-1-26_final_report_06-4-1-26.pdf

Taylor, JG, SC Gillette, RW Hodgson, JL Downing. 2005. Communicating with Wildland Interface Communities During Wildfire. Open File Report 2005-1061. Reston, CA: USDI Geological Survey.

Weisshaupt, BR, MS Carroll, KA Blatner, WD Robinson, and P Jakes. 2005. Acceptability of Smoke from Prescribed Forest Burning in the Northern Inland West: A Focus Group Approach. Journal ofForestry 103(4): 189-193.

Winter, GJ, C Vogt, and JS Fried. 2002. Fuel Treatments at the Wildland-Urban Interface: Common Concerns in Diverse Regions. Journal of Forestry 100(1): 15-21.

Project ID: FY10PF79