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Social and Ecological Factors Influencing Attitudes Toward the Application of High-Intensity Prescribed Burns to Restore Fire Adapted Grassland Ecosystems

David Toledo, Texas A&M University
Michael G. Sorice, Virginia Tech
Urs P. Kreuter, Texas A&M University


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Fire suppression in grassland systems that are adapted to episodic fire has contributed to the recruitment of woody species in grasslands worldwide. Even though the ecology of restoring these fire prone systems back to grassland states is becoming clearer, a major hurdle to the reintroduction of historic fires at a landscape scale is its social acceptability. Despite the growing body of literature on the social aspects of fire, an understanding of the human dimensions of applying high-intensity prescribed burns in grassland and savanna systems is lacking. We used structural equation modeling to examine how landowners’ attitudes toward high-intensity prescribed burns are affected by previous experience with burning, perceptions of brush encroachment, land condition, proximity constraints, risk orientation, fire management knowledge and skill, access to fire management equipment, and subjective norms. Our results suggest that experience, risk taking orientation, and especially social norms, i.e., perceived support from others, when implementing prescribed burns play an important role in determining the attitudes of landowners toward the use of high-intensity prescribed burns. Concern over lack of skill, knowledge, and insufficient resources have a moderately negative effect on these attitudes. Our results highlight the importance of targeted engagement strategies to address risk perceptions, subjective norms, and landowner’s concerns. With these concerns allayed, it is possible to increase the adoption of high-intensity prescribed burns that lead to landscape-scale grassland restoration and conservation.

Key words

high-intensity prescribed burn; prescribed fire; social-ecological systems; structural model; subjective norms
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087