Risk Salience, Public Pressure, and Agency Action: Wildfire and the Management of Public Lands

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Sep 12, 2016
Matthew Wibbenmeyer, Sarah Anderson, and Andrew J. Plantinga



Agencies tasked with managing public resources must decide how to distribute those resources, drawing on their expertise while also weighing input from the public. This paper evaluates whether agencies respond to the salience of major events by mitigating risk closer in time and space to those events. We test for this manifestation of risk salience using the case of fuels management on public lands in the western U.S. We find that wildfire risk reduction projects are placed close to fires that are close to human populations. This occurs particularly where citizens have more political efficacy, as proxied for by income and educational attainment. This evidence of the effects of risk salience suggests that the public shapes agency behavior in ways that may not be optimally responsive to risk.

Conference paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association and winner of Science, Technology, and Environmental Politics Best Conference Paper Award.

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