Wildland fire is a complex socio-ecological phenomenon that `burns through' environmental, organizational, and geo-political boundaries. The management of wildland fire has emerged as both a crucial hazard management concern and a critical conservation priority as those living in fire-prone ecosystems experience more severe fire events and altered fire regimes contribute to biodiversity loss. This research examines two policies - the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 in the United States and the 1997 Rural Fires Act in New South Wales (NSW), Australia - which both seek to enhance inter-organizational coordination and integrated management by mandating collaborative wildland fire planning within legislation. This `top-down' approach is a departure from previous forms of collaborative environmental management that view collaboration as an emergent and voluntary process. Thus, it is unclear whether mandated collaboration fosters the flexible governance, positive social outcomes, and innovative management associated with `bottom-up' collaboration. Taking a multiple case study approach, I explore this question in four chapters, examining, in particular: 1) social learning processes in US collaborative wildland fire planning groups, 2) development of inter-organizational communication networks in NSW bushfire planning groups, 3) processes through which participants in NSW planning groups `co-construct' the fire environment, and 4) modes of governance upon which the US and NSW policies draw and the influence of these governance modes on collaborative processes and outcomes.
Most broadly, I find that wildland fire planning processes and outcomes are dependent on the design of the policy mandate for collaboration, as well as planning context. For example, US wildfire planning groups had to commit to a learning-centered process on the local level, but the design of the policy mandate for collaboration influenced the type of learning that was most likely to occur. Additionally, the legislative mandate for collaboration in NSW fostered the creation of more active inter-organizational communication networks during planning than they had been prior, with important mediating factors such as group size and history of inter-organizational conflict. I also find that the imposition of a standardized planning template led to risk being the primary organizing feature of planning in NSW, promoting the co-construction of a governable fire environment that was not necessarily amenable to achieving broader, landscape-level ecological goals. Though both the NSW and US policies were created with similar goals, each draws upon distinct modes of governance to structure collaboration. The bureaucratic NSW policy focused planning towards strategic outcomes, while the network-based US policy facilitated positive relational outcomes.
This dissertation has implications for collaborative environmental planning theory and practice, begins to evaluate mandated collaboration as a public policy tool, and contributes to international discussions on sustainable wildland fire policy and planning. Policy-mandates create the structural context for multi-stakeholder collaboration, but do not facilitate meaningful collaborative planning processes on their own. Mandates must be met with strong leadership, diverse participation, facilitation, and innovation on the local level. When designing collaborative mandates, policy-makers need to consider the balance of flexibility and administrative direction within the policy structure. Though bureaucratic directives may promote accountability, standardization, and strategic planning, they may also limit innovation on the local level, place power and influence in the hands of a few organizations, and promote specific (and perhaps narrow) understandings of the environment and the `appropriate' means by which to manage it. Conversely, flexible policy mandates for collaboration may allow for contextual interpretation on the local level and facilitate positive social outcomes, but may also promote limited accountability and be met by a limited set of players with `business-as-usual' approaches to management. However, in a context as dependent on coordination as wildland fire management, mandated collaboration represents a positive public policy innovation by providing a forum for inter-organizational interaction and coordinated planning. Yet, as large fires continue to be a prominent feature of certain landscapes, addressing both hazard reduction and ecological conservation objectives will be a consistent challenge. Policies need to provide substantive guidance and procedural direction on how to achieve broader conservation goals within fire management and planning.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. October 2010. Major: Conservation Biology. Advisor: Kristen C. Nelson, PhD. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 182 pages, appendices 1-3.
Brummel, Rachel Fassbinder.
Burning through boundaries: collaborative governance and wildland fire planning in the United States and New South Wales, Australia..
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