Policymakers seek ways to encourage fuel reduction among private forest landowners to augment similar efforts on federal and state lands. Motivating landowners to contribute to landscape-level wildfire protection requires an understanding of factors that underlie landowner behaviour regarding wildfire. We developed a conceptual framework describing landowners’ propensity to conduct fuel reduction as a function of objective and subjective factors relating to wildfire risk. We tested our conceptual framework using probit analysis of empirical data from a survey of non-industrial private forest landowners in the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) region of eastern Oregon (USA). Our empirical results confirm the conceptual framework and suggest that landowners’ perceptions of wildfire risk and propensity to conduct fuel treatments are correlated with hazardous fuel conditions on or near their parcels, whether they have housing or timber assets at risk, and their past experience with wildfire, financial capacity for conducting treatments and membership in forestry and fire protection organisations. Our results suggest that policies that increase awareness of hazardous fuel conditions on their property and potential for losses in residential and timber assets, and that enhance social networks through which awareness and risk perception are formed, could help to encourage fuel reduction among private forest landowners.