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Deciding Where to Burn: Stakeholder Priorities for Prescribed Burning of a Fire-Dependent Ecosystem

Jennifer K. Costanza, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; currently: North Carolina State University
Aaron Moody, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Abstract

Multiagency partnerships increasingly work cooperatively to plan and implement fire management. The stakeholders that comprise such partnerships differ in their perceptions of the benefits and risks of fire use or nonuse. These differences inform how different stakeholders prioritize sites for burning, constrain prescribed burning, and how they rationalize these priorities and constraints. Using a survey of individuals involved in the planning and implementation of prescribed fire in the Onslow Bight region of North Carolina, we examined how the constraints and priorities for burning in the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystem differed among three stakeholder groups: prescribed burn practitioners from agencies, practitioners from private companies, and nonpractitioners. Stakeholder groups did not differ in their perceptions of constraints to burning, and development near potentially burned sites was the most important constraint identified. The top criteria used by stakeholders to decide where to burn were the time since a site was last burned, and a site’s ecosystem health, with preference given to recently burned sites in good health. Differences among stakeholder groups almost always pertained to perceptions of the nonecological impacts of burning. Prescribed burning priorities of the two groups of practitioners, and particularly practitioners from private companies, tended to be most influenced by nonecological impacts, especially through deprioritization of sites that have not been burned recently or are in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Our results highlight the difficulty of burning these sites, despite widespread laws in the southeast U.S. that limit liability of prescribed burn practitioners. To avoid ecosystem degradation on sites that are challenging to burn, particularly those in the WUI, conservation partnerships can facilitate demonstration projects involving public and private burn practitioners on those sites. In summary, an increased understanding of stakeholder perspectives can provide insight into the potential long-term consequences of current fire management and thus facilitate effective ecosystem conservation.

Key words

collaborative conservation; fire management; longleaf pine; management liability; risk; wildfire; wildland-urban interface
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087