Linked socio-environmental responses to destructive wildfire: Are wildfires ‘hot moments’ for transformative adaptation?

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Award Year: 
Principal Investigator: 
Miranda Mockrin, USDA Forest Service
Van Butsic, University of California, Berkeley
Alex Syphard, Conservation Biology Institute
Associated Program: 


Destructive wildfires are sudden, extreme events: In a matter of hours, both social and ecological communities are transformed by the loss of homes and lives, and change in natural vegetation. For example, over 2,000 homes were destroyed and 14 people lost their lives in wildfires that burned more than 17,000 acres outside Gatlinburg, TN in 2016. After such an event, residents take stock of their transformed landscape and environment, deciding to remain, rebuild, or move, while ecological communities restructure and regrow. These combined social and ecological responses to wildfire may present a ‘hot moment’ or ‘window of opportunity’ where governments, communities, and residents can take action to reduce the future exposure to disaster. However, we lack cross-site, synthetic, interdisciplinary research on post-wildfire response and recovery: Do wildfires lead to transformative adaptation, reducing future wildfire risk or do they lead to entrenchment, as residents and institutions re-create hazard-prone environments?

This Pursuit will convene an interdisciplinary team of researchers, in social and natural sciences, and examine national-level data sets to: (1) Assess social response to wildfire and possible adaptation or entrenchment through an inventory of housing change (rebuilding, sales, newdevelopment, land subdivision); (2) Investigate howsocial and ecological settings and impactsinfluence housing change post-fire; and (3) At the household scale, determine how housing change relates to the post-wildfire ecological setting and risk landscape, determining adaptation or entrenchment.


Martha S Witter, National Park Service
Ronald Schumann, University of North Texas
Toddi Steelman, University of Saskatchewan
Owen Price, University of Wollongong
Cassandra Johnson Gaither, USDA Forest Service
Christopher Emrich, University of Central Florida
Teresa Brennan-Kane, USGS
Heather Anuhea Kramer, University of Wisconsin - Madison
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