Lava lake near Mt. Bachelor, Oregon

Regrowth near Santiam Pass, Oregon

Winter rim fire above Summer Lake

Burn piles near Sunriver, Oregon

Black Butte from a lodgepole pine stand in the B & B fire


For more information, view the proposal document and the special issue of Ecology and Sociey where our results are published

Many experts think that wildland fire policies in the U.S. are fragmented and broken and in need of integrated, socio-ecological understanding and solutions. Our current approaches to wildfire have been to separate the fire-prone landscape into a "wildland-urban interface" under the influence of fire management agencies, and a wild landscape under the influence of land managers. The two fire worlds are often seen as socially, economically, and institutionally separate, yet, they are clearly part of a single interconnected socio-ecological landscape. Lack of understanding of these connections has lead to policies that are suboptimal or have unintended consequences. The problem of adaptation to fire-prone landscapes is even more challenging when climate change and carbon or energy markets are considered. Developing more adaptive policies and actions is limited by lack of understanding of how social systems—networks and institutions—influence adaptive behavior in private and public landowners. This research project is intended to improve our understanding of how biophysical systems, management actions, and socio-economic influences interact to affect sustainability in fire-prone landscapes.

We are a team of university and federal researchers and graduate students working on an interdisciplinary project funded by the National Science Foundation and the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.  Our goals are:

  1. Understand complexities of the social and ecological systems of the fire-prone forest landscapes of central Oregon.
  2. Use collaborative learning and simulation models to improve the effectiveness of forest management policies across ownerships.
  3. Understand the role of social networks (e.g. collaboratives ) and economic forces in the decision making of landowners and managers.
  4. Understand how external forces such as climate change and energy and carbon markets might affect social and ecological systems.

Our approach

We integrate social and ecological sciences to study the forest areas of central Oregon including private, state, federal, and tribal lands. Our method will combine social surveys, interviews and a multi-agent landscape computer model of landowner decision-making. This model can represent vegetative succession and fire ignition/spread and climate change effects on several socio-economic and ecological indicators. We also use scenario analysis to engage stakeholders in discussion of possible landscape futures for this area.

Expected impacts and outcomes:

Our collaborative learning approach facilitates joint learning for researchers and stakeholders and increases the relevance of our work

Our new technologies will enable the public, managers, students, researchers, and educators to better understand complex systems

Workshops with stakeholders will explore how scenario planning can be used in developing effective management strategies in these landscapes. 

An international workshop with scientists from Australia and other countries will broaden the scientific and social relevance of the work

Training and learning opportunities will be created for undergraduates and graduate students