As the wildfire problem in the U.S. escalates -- with increasing length and severity of wildfire seasons, increasing fire suppression and structure protection costs, and increasing loss of homes and impact to human lives -- it becomes imperative to understand the public's attitudes and behaviors in order to work with them concerning actions they can take to reduce their chances of becoming wildfire statistics. This dissertation first gauged public attitudes and beliefs on a U.S. national scale using computer content analysis of national and regional news media. This study found that public debate about the Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forests Restoration Act was reframed as a need for regulatory reforms to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The second study also used computer content analysis of news media to gauge public attitudes and beliefs, but with a focus on individual actions that may be taken rather than on national policy. This study examined the public's understanding of defensible space and other actions homeowners can take to protect their property from wildfire. We found a paucity of discussion in the news media about positive actions that homeowners could take. Such actions were grossly overshadowed by media coverage of wildfires and their destruction. With news media as a primary information source for residents in the wildland-urban interface, this study highlighted an opportunity for more effective messages about homeowner actions that can be taken. The third study in this dissertation examined a unique case study - wildfire preparedness on the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota - through the lens of diffusion of innovations theory. Applicability of this case study to other locations is limited by a locally prevalent availability of water sources and social and demographic characteristics of the area, but the case does highlight ways in which diffusion of innovations theory can be useful in evaluating how wildfire preparedness innovations become part of a homeowner's response to risk. Together, these three studies highlight challenges and opportunities for communicating with the public about ways they can mitigate their risk of wildfire.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2012. Major: Conservation Biology. Advisors: David N. Bengston and Kristen C. Nelson. 1 computer file (PDF); ix 117 pages.
Johnson, Jayne Fingerman.
Wildfire in the wildland-urban interface: public attitudes, behavior, and policy..
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.