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Does Wildfire Open a Policy Window? Local Government and Community Adaptation After Fire in the United States


Hillary K. Fishler
Susan I Stewart



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Northern Research Station


Environmental Management


Becoming a fire adapted community that can coexist with wildfire is envisioned as a continuous, iterative process of adaptation, but it is unclear how communities may pursue adaptation. Experience with wildfire and other natural hazards suggests that disasters may open a "window of opportunity" leading to local government policy changes. We examined how destructive wildfire affected progress toward becoming fire adapted in eight locations in the United States. We found that community-level adaptation following destructive fires is most common where destructive wildfire is novel and there is already government capacity and investment in wildfire regulation and land use planning. External funding, staff capacity, and the presence of issue champions combined to bring about change after wildfire. Locations with long histories of destructive wildfire, extensive previous investment in formal wildfire regulation and mitigation, or little government and community capacity to manage wildfire saw fewer changes. Across diverse settings, communities consistently used the most common tools and actions for wildfire mitigation and planning. Nearly all sites reported changes in wildfire suppression, emergency response, and hazard planning documents. Expansion in voluntary education and outreach programs to increase defensible space was also common, occurring in half of our sites, but land use planning and regulations remained largely unchanged. Adaptation at the community and local governmental level therefore may not axiomatically follow from each wildfire incident, nor easily incorporate formal approaches to minimizing land use and development in hazardous environments, but in many sites wildfire was a focusing event that inspired reflection and adaptation.


Mockrin, Miranda H.; Fishler, Hillary K.; Stewart, Susan I. 2018. Does Wildfire Open a Policy Window? Local Government and Community Adaptation After Fire in the United States. Environmental Management. 62(2): 210-228.


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