Managing wildfire risk in fire-prone landscapes: how are private landowners contributing?

A timely paper from the PNW Research Station:

Click to access scifi154.pdf


The fire-prone landscapes of the West include both public and private lands. Wildfire burns indiscriminately across property boundaries, which means that the way potential fuels are managed on one piece of property can affect wildfire risk on neighboring lands.

Paige Fischer and Susan Charnley, social scientists with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, surveyed private landowners in eastern Oregon to learn how they perceive fire risk on their land and what they do, if anything, to reduce that risk. The scientists found that owners who live on a forested parcel are much more likely to reduce fuels than are those who live elsewhere. Private forest owners are aware of fire risk and knowledgeable about methods for reducing fuels, but are constrained by the costs and technical challenges of protecting large acreages of forested land. Despite the collective benefits of working cooperatively, most of these owners reduce hazardous fuels on their land independently, primarily because of their distrust about working with others, and because of social norms associated with private property ownership.

These results provide guidance for developing more effective fuel reduction programs that accommodate the needs and preferences of private forest landowners. The findings also indicate the potential benefits of bringing landowners into collective units to work cooperatively, raising awareness about landscape-scale fire risk, and promoting strategies for an “all lands” approach to reducing wildfire risk.

8 thoughts on “Managing wildfire risk in fire-prone landscapes: how are private landowners contributing?”

  1. Here is another sample point on how local planning gets done:

    “We don’t need you to baby-sit us,” she told the commissioners. “We’re not interested in more rules and more stuff forced down our throats. I suggest you take a copy of the covenants, put it in a file and shut the drawer.“

    Foremost among the unpopular issues was a requirement for forest fire fuel mitigation, per the recommendation of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, that some said would require the removal of thousands of pine trees that are foremost among the attractions of Double Arrow.

    “I have 17 ponderosa pines on my property and I would have to remove half of them, on my own dime,” said Bill Cruce.

    • According to the Double Arrow Ranch Landowners Association web site,, the Ranch is a “FIREWISE/USA Community.” (The site has a few forest management phtoos, too.) FireWise is voluntary, zoning regualtions are not, so you can understand the “more rules and more stuff forced down our throats” comment. What if all landowners in the Ranch aren’t FireWise and their homes and trees act as ignition sources for other properties?

      Under Oregon law, “if a fire originates and spreads from a property and a certification card has not been returned, the homeowner may be liable for fire suppression costs up to $100,000.” See

  2. Jon, check out this gentle column..about the right brain side of taking down your trees..

    his later column about the comments..

    A while back I wrote about the forest around my home, a forest now thinned by the cutting of 50 trees because of the fear of fire. It was a nostalgic piece about the march of time and how my now-grown children once played in the ponderosa pines we took down just before the recent — and nearby — Black Forest blaze, a column that moved you, the loyal readers, to loving and tender-hearted comments such as this one, from actual online reader “Yaakov Watkins”:

    “I have no sympathy for this person (who) endangered his family by raising them in a fire trap. You got lucky. At least your children didn’t die from your ignorance.”

    Frankly, it’s that kind of warm and fuzzy reader reaction that makes this whole writing thing such a terrific hobby.

    And this letter on the 13th..

    Rich Tosches says he understands “the thought” that living in the forest endangers firefighters, yet he complains about insurance requirements that he clear trees to a distance of 100 feet from his house. He asserts that on most red-zone lots this would mean cutting down every tree and shrub on the lot. Tosches tells us that he lives on a 3-acre lot, which does not seem large for the red zone. Meeting the insurance requirement would require him to cut trees on less than one-sixteenth of his land. That hardly seems like much to ask when someone is going to risk their life to save your property. To raise his understanding from an abstract “thought” to reality, Tosches should give up his hobby of writing, join a hotshot crew and put his life on the line.

    Oh, yeah, move to town, too.

    Whassup with the anti-woods living vituperatives? This is suburbia, not a distant cabin.

  3. Like I said in a previous comment…I don’t think the WUI hazard is so much in “new subdivisions,” I think it’s in the old ones built in the era before the present “fear of fire.” I think the “marker forces” will compell new WUI subdivisions to treat the forest before subdividing. I know if I was a prospective buyer in Colorado right now, I would be very interested in knowing the forest had been thinned and treated for fire hazarad.
    When you look at an aerial photo of the Black Forest in COlorado…man the trees are thick. Nobody wants to cut any trees so they might have to see their neighbor. The USFS thinned the forest around my sister’s cabin, and suddenly you could hear the noise of the nearby campground…so noice abatement is an issue (of course, they greatly appreciated the reduction in fire hazard much more). I told a guy who was “clearing brush and small trees” from his property that only a 25′ tree spacing would drop a crown fire to the ground, and then showed him what 25′ spacing looked like, and he turned white and walked away. Let’s hope the “market forces” of the insurance industry drives change in the old “sub’s.”
    Aesthetics are relative. In Grand Lake Colorado, the town had to cut most of the pine beetle killed trees around the homes. When you look at a photo taken five years ago from a neaby promontory looking down on the town you couldn’t even see the roofs of the houses the forest was so dense, but when you look at a photo taken today you see all the roofs. I expected to see a town in a middle of a clearcut, but there was enough young small shade tolerant spruce and aspen in the understory, it looked more like a new subdivision that had spruce and aspen planted as landscaping. It was really rather pleasant. My point is…if you didn’t know a mature forest was there before, you don’t lament that there is none now. If you move into a new sub with large trees spaced 25′ apart with lush grass and flowers, that is what you fell in love with. Besides, as only Realtors can do, they put a positive spin on the MPB clearcut problem by spinning it as “emerging views”! Don’t ya love it!
    The one “new subdivision” that is the most “fire safe” of any I know of, is the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky Montana. The whole place was built in old regenerated clearcuts from the Plum Creek, Burlington Resources days. I doubt the millionaires who built there even know it. They probably thought the 20 foot tall lodgepole regen was planted as landscaping! LOL.
    Frankly, I think I’d rather take my chances buying a lot in an old Plum Creek clearcut. And they’re the ones that have most of the “raw developable land” in Montana.
    All speculation of course…but I would like to know how subdividers today react to these new “fear of fire” market forces in preparing the forest for subdividing. As I said in my previous comment, the ones I’ve seen have been nicely thinned to reduce fire and MPB hazards.

  4. Sharon, I guess I’m missing your point about suburbia vs a cabin. More houses in the wrong place doesn’t make it better, I think the question should be whether society should pay (dollars and lives) for choices made by individuals to take risks. (Kind of like the health care debate.) It’s encouraging to hear that fire risk is starting to affect real estate markets and that some jurisdictions are regulating the ‘retrofit’ of older developments.

    • So, similarly, should we also punish urban and suburban homeowners for the real costs of law enforcement? For earthquakes? For coastal flooding and hurricanes? For river flooding? For ice storms? For tornadoes? For avalanches? For volcanoes? For road repairs and more road capacities?

      I sure don’t want to pay for THEIR choices, where THEY live!

      My point is that almost every place where people live have impacts and costs, and we should remember that when blaming anyone for where they live.

      • Those are questions that should be asked, and answers ought to depend on how identifiable the risk is, how avoidable the risk is, what the cost is, what the benefit is, how widely the benefit is shared, etc. Choosing to surround yourself with flammable material in a place where there are a lot of fires might not get you very high on a society’s list of bailout priorities. This could be viewed as ‘not rewarding’ risky behavior rather than ‘punishing’ for it.

      • I didn’t realize that only urban and suburban people needed law enforcement. Everyone in rural communities and the country-side must never break the law, eh? And certainly earthquakes never hit rural areas. Same with hurricanes, flooding, ice storms tornadoes, which clearly only impact urban/sub-urban areas, right Larry?

        Being a resident of a rural state, who grew up in a rural village of less than 1,000 people, I’ve always wondered where you come up with this notion that rural people or states are funding all these urban/sub-urban people.

        Here’s a good info graphic, which includes federal tax payments per state, as well as federal tax allotments per state. Seems like the more rural, less populated states make out pretty well, according to this information.


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