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Diversity in forest management to reduce wildfire losses: implications for resilience

Susan Charnley, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Thomas A. Spies, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Ana M. G. Barros, Oregon State University, Department of Forest Engineering, Resources & Management
Eric M. White, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Keith A. Olsen, Oregon State University, Department of Forest Ecosystems & Society

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08753-220122

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Abstract

This study investigates how federal, state, and private corporate forest owners in a fire-prone landscape of southcentral Oregon manage their forests to reduce wildfire hazard and loss to high-severity wildfire. We evaluate the implications of our findings for concepts of social–ecological resilience. Using interview data, we found a high degree of "response diversity" (variation in forest management decisions and behaviors to reduce wildfire losses) between and within actor groups. This response diversity contributed to heterogeneous forest conditions across the landscape and was driven mainly by forest management legacies, economics, and attitudes toward wildfire (fortress protection vs. living with fire). We then used an agent-based landscape model to evaluate trends in forest structure and fire metrics by ownership. Modeling results indicated that, in general, U.S. Forest Service management had the most favorable outcomes for forest resilience to wildfire, and private corporate management the least. However, some state and private corporate forest ownerships have the building blocks for developing fire-resilient forests. Heterogeneity in social–ecological systems is often thought to favor social–ecological resilience. We found that despite high social and ecological heterogeneity in our study area, most forest ownerships do not exhibit characteristics that make them resilient to high-severity fire currently or in the future under current management. Thus, simple theories about resilience based on heterogeneity must be informed by knowledge of the environmental and social conditions that comprise that heterogeneity. Our coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) approach enabled us to understand connections among the social, economic, and ecological components of a multiownership, fire-prone ecosystem, and to identify how social–ecological resilience to wildfire might improve through interventions to address key constraints in the system. Our methods underscore the importance of looking beyond the present to future trajectories of change to fully understand the implications of current natural resource management practices for adaptation and social–ecological resilience to natural disturbances.

Key words

agent-based modeling; multiownership landscape; private corporate forestry; response diversity; state forestry; U.S. Forest Service

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087