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    Large-scale, high-severity wildfires are a major challenge to the future social-ecological sustainability of fire-adapted forest ecosystems in the American West. Managing forests to mitigate this risk is a collective action problem requiring landowners and stakeholders within multi-ownership landscapes to plan and implement coordinated restoration treatments. Our research question is: how can we promote collective action to reduce wildfire risk and restore fire-resilient forests in the American West? To address this question we draw on collective action theory to produce an environmental public good (fire-resilient forests), and empirical examples of collective action from six projects that are part of the US Forest Service–Natural Resources Conservation Service Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership. Our findings are based on qualitative, semi-structured interviews conducted with 104 individuals who were purposively selected to represent the diverse stakeholders involved in these projects. Fostering collective action to restore fire-resilient forests entails getting as many landowners (especially large landowners) to participate in wildfire risk reduction as possible to increase its areal extent; and landowner coordination in planning and implementing strategically designed restoration treatments to optimize their effectiveness. We identify factors that enabled and constrained landowner participation and coordination in the Joint Chiefs’ projects. Based on our findings and theory about when collective action will emerge, we specify a suite of practices to promote collective action for wildfire risk reduction across property boundaries, emphasizing incentives and enabling conditions. These include proactive education and outreach targeting landowners; multi-stakeholder processes with broad landowner representation to develop coordinated management approaches; financial and technical assistance to support fuels treatments on all ownerships within similar time frames; strong partnerships; and using common forestry professionals to plan and implement treatments on different ownerships (especially private lands). Our findings can inform cross-boundary management for landscape-scale conservation and restoration in other contexts.

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    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Charnley, Susan; Kelly, Erin C; Fischer, A Paige. 2020. Fostering collective action to reduce wildfire risk across property boundaries in the American West. Environmental Research Letters. 15(2): 025007-.


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    Public goods, hazardous fuels reduction, Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, collective action, cross-boundary management, wildfire.

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