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Complex Economic And Socio-Political Challenges Of Wildfires In The Intermountain West

Aspen tree grove with wildfire of orange flames and dark smoke.
US Forest Service

New research suggests that social and economic impacts of wildfire are becoming more complex. 

Liana Prudencio is a PhD student in Watershed Sciences and the Climate Adaption Science program at Utah State University.

In a recent study, Prudencio and collaborators investigated how shifting fire trends are changing fire adaption and management strategies.  

"We had three different topics within fire management. We had fire trends, what were we seeing over time with fire. We had the question of what are the economic impacts of fire. And then we also wanted to know what are fire managers thinking and what are they doing," Prudencio said . 

Through this approach, Prudencio and her collaborators looked at how fires are impacting local communities.

"For the second component with economics we found that there were some positive and negative effects on employment from fire events. And mostly they were short term, around 1-2 months after a fire event. And it varied also when we were looking at different sectors such as services providing and goods producing," Prudencio said. 

According to Prudencio, fires had short-term positive effects on goods production, but negative short-term effects on leisure and hospitality.

In addition to economic impacts, fire managers noted increasing challenges in other sectors.   

"The fire managers were noting more socio-political challenges rather than technological challenges," Prudencio said.  "And what I mean by that is we’re not having issues coming up about how to prevent fires and how to suppress them, the problems and the challenges come from socio-political things such as not having enough funding, as well as federal level challenges from shifts in administrations."

Prudencio predicts that as fire trends continue to increase in the Intermountain West these diverse economic impacts and challenges will continue to grow in complexity. 

This research by Prudencio and collaborators can be found in the peer-reviewed journal Fire.