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Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Making Communities Fire Resilient

Photo of Damage from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in a wildland-urban interface near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Kari Greer, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest ServiceDamage from the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in a wildland-urban interface near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Kari Greer, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest ServiceSnapshot : Social scientists identified characteristics of wildland-urban interface communities that influence their wildfire preparedness and planning processes.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Williams, Daniel R.  
Research Location : Colorado
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1052


Reducing wildland fire risk to lives and property is a critical issue for policy makers, land managers, and local citizens who reside in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). In order for a wildfire risk reduction effort to be effective in a WUI community, the risk reduction effort must include community support and engagement. WUI communities have a wide range of social, political and economic characteristics that influence their adaptive capacity and approaches to wildfire planning and mitigation. Forest Service scientists and their partners studied the diversity of WUI community types in the U.S. and explored social factors influencing community wildfire planning and mitigation. Researchers developed a typology of "archetypal" WUI communities to help explain how different WUI communities approach wildfire planning and mitigation. They found that community wildfire protection plans are an effective way to reduce wildfire risk in the WUI, but most WUI communities have no such plan in place. Four key elements influence adaptive capacity and resilience in WUI communities: (1) demographics and community characteristics, (2) access to scientific and technical knowledge networks, (3) informal interactions and relationships among stakeholders, and (4) place-based knowledge, experience, and identities.WUI communities generally fall into four archetypes: (1) formalized suburban WUI community, (2) high amenity, high resource WUI community, (3) rural lifestyle WUI community, and (4) working landscape and resource dependent WUI community. Understanding how a community fits within the four archetypes can help managers, planners, and community members tailor planning processes to their community's adaptive capacity and specific needs. A "one-size-fits-all" approach to community wildfire protection plan creation is ineffective, but adaptive capacity and resilience can be improved by building social networks and promoting social learning through place-based collaborative projects. Best practices for creating effective plans include: adjusting plan creation efforts to the local community context and safety goals; identifying the community's capacities and social resources and employ them in developing a plan; and helping ensure long-term success by showing progress, linking the wildfire protection plan to other plans and frameworks, and allowing the plan to evolve as conditions change.

This research illustrated the wide range of social characteristics that define WUI communities, thereby pushing concepts and methods for assessing adaptive capacity beyond a simple mapping of demographic variables. Though the context of this research was WUI fire preparedness, this model for adaptive capacity and resilience can be applied to a wide range of natural hazards and climate change adaptation.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Pam Jakes, Northern Research Station
  • Antony S. Cheng, Colorado State University
  • Joseph G. Champ, Colorado State University
  • Kristen Nelson, University of Minnesota
  • Matthew S. Carroll, Washington State University
  • Sam Burns, Fort Lewis College
  • Travis Paveglio, University of Idaho
  • Victoria Sturtevant, Southern Oregon University

Program Areas