CNH: Coupled Natural and Human Systems in Fire-Prone Landscapes: Interactions, Dynamics, and Adaptation

This project focuses on improving our understanding of how biophysical systems, management actions, and socio-economic influences interact to affect sustainability in fire-prone landscapes under climate change. This work integrates social and ecological sciences to study a fire-prone landscape in central Oregon that includes private, state, federal, and tribal lands. Our method will combine an established spatially explicit, policy-driven, multiagent model of land management decision-making, models of vegetative succession and fire ignition/spread that can represent climate change effects, and a suite of landscape evaluators of socio-economic and ecological system performance. The project will integrate existing studies of ecosystems with new and ongoing studies characterizing human preferences and values in these landscapes to parameterize the multiagent model with defensible representations of human decision-making. We will extend the application of agent-based models to study how social networks influence landscape dynamics and adaptation, and explore landscape trajectories under alternative policy and climate change scenarios using Monte Carlo techniques to understand variant/invariant aspects of landscape change, land management policy strategies, human preferences, and ecosystem feedbacks. These analyses will help identify management strategies that increase adaptive capacity of these landscapes to respond to uncertain futures. We anticipate this project will: 1) reveal complex system behaviors associated with fire-prone landscapes, 2) improve effectiveness of forest management policies in multiownership fire-prone landscapes, 3) improve understanding of the role of social networks (e.g. fire protection districts and environmental organizations) and economic forces in influencing how landowners and managers make decisions under risk and uncertainty, and 4) improve understanding of how external forces of climate change and carbon markets could affect policy outcomes, biodiversity, and ecosystem services.

Wildland fire policies in the U.S. are fragmented and broken, largely because land and wildfire management policies do not fully consider human and ecological effects. Typically, the fire-prone landscape is divided into a "wildland-urban interface" under the influence of fire management agencies, and a wild landscape under the influence of land managers. These two fire worlds are often seen as socially, economically, and organizationally separate, yet they are clearly part of a single interconnected landscape. Lack of understanding of these connections has lead to policies that are ineffective or even counterproductive. For example, fire suppression can increase the severity of fires and draws resources away from necessary ecological restoration work in wilder parts of the landscape. The problem of adaptation to fire-prone landscapes is even more challenging when climate change and carbon markets are considered. In order to develop more effective policies, we need to improve our understanding of how social systems - networks and institutions - influence behavior in private and public landowners. This study will develop methods to characterize these social systems and their interactions with the environment, and use this information to explore and test alternative strategies that improve the landscape while minimizing the social and economic costs associated with wildfire.

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