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Monday, July 25 • 1:30pm - 2:00pm
Systems Thinking and Wildland Fire Management

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2724 A changing climate, expanding ex-urban residential development, and increasing pressures on ecosystem services raise global concerns over growing losses associated with wildland fires. New management paradigms acknowledge that fire is inevitable and often uncontrollable, and focus on living with fire rather than attempting to eliminate it from the landscape. A notable example from the U.S. is the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which aims to bring multiple landowners and stakeholders together to achieve three broadly defined goals: resilient landscapes, fire-adapted human communities, and safe and effective response to fire. Implicit in the structure of these three goals is the nexus of three systems: the ecological system, the social system, and the fire management system, respectively. This systems-based structure reflects a perspective that contextualizes fire as a disturbance agent that influences and is in turn influenced by other agents and processes within a broader socio-ecological system. While the need for transformative system change is well-recognized, at least three central challenges remain: (1) the need to accept that how fires are managed is in many instances the limiting factor of system behaviour; (2) the need to improve our understanding of the characteristics and complexities of the fire management system itself; and (3) perhaps most fundamentally, the need to coherently apply systems analysis principles in order to improve system performance. In this presentation I will attempt to bridge these gaps by applying systems thinking to contemporary wildfire management issues in the U.S. One thread of the presentation will focus on synthesizing findings from various lines of fire-related research and identifying how collectively they reflect systemic flaws stemming from feedbacks, delays, bounded rationality, misaligned incentives, and other factors. Particular attention will be devoted to the “fire paradox,” whereby a legacy of fire exclusion in fire-prone forests has led to hazardous accumulations of flammable vegetation such that future fires burn with higher intensity and are more resistant to control; today’s “success” begets tomorrows failure. The second thread will outline a roadmap for redesigning the fire management system so that behaviour better aligns with purpose. This discussion will focus on recommended actions including breaking down institutional silos, investing in pre-fire assessment and planning, improving monitoring and performance evaluation, and adopting core risk management principles. Ideally this line of research will yield insights that can lead to meaningful systemic change and improved fire management outcomes.

avatar for Mag. Stefan Blachfellner

Mag. Stefan Blachfellner

SIG Chair: Socio-Ecological Systems and Design, Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science


Monday July 25, 2016 1:30pm - 2:00pm MDT
ECCR 200

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