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Individual Highlight

Identifying Policy Tools That Encourage Community-Level Defensible Space in Six U.S. Communities

Photo of Idaho home with defensible space fostered by an incentive program. Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest ServiceIdaho home with defensible space fostered by an incentive program. Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : A Forest Service scientist and partners assessed outreach programs in six different communities and identified outreach tools that were effective in encouraging defensible space. Community members and agency personnel who are seeking to engage residents to reduce individual and collective wildfire risk can be guided by these findings. Understanding the diversity of approaches and activities that have fostered mitigation can help managers choose what will work best for their specific communities.

Principal Investigators(s) :
McCaffrey, Sarah M. 
Research Location : Idaho
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 651


Numerous factors contribute to whether or not an individual will take action to reduce his or her wildfire risk. When an individual opts to not implement risk mitigation measures, community leaders can use a variety of policy tools to encourage that person to adopt an action or change behavior. These tools included passing rules or regulations, building capacity to act, providing incentives, and establishing community norms. A Forest Service scientist and partners reviewed approaches used by six communities in Idaho, Oregon, and Utah that have been effective at encouraging homeowners to adopt and maintain mitigation activities. Each community's approach was different. Each was tailored to meet specific community needs, and ranged from collective efforts organized locally to efforts developed externally to provide incentives or potential punishments for not adopting treatments. The most consistent policy tool across communities was capacity building, primarily raising awareness of the fire hazard and potential mitigation behaviors and leveraging external resources, generally obtaining grant funding to assist with vegetation reduction efforts. Another commonality was the involvement of a central group or individual that provided leadership by initiating and championing the mitigation effort and serving as a link to external resources.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Bruce Shindler, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University
  • Eric Toman and Melanie Stidham, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University