Date of this Version
Twidwell D, Wonkka CL, Sindelar MT, Weir JR (2015) First Approximations of Prescribed Fire Risks Relative to Other Management Techniques Used on Private Lands. PLoS ONE 10(10): e0140410.
Fire is widely recognized as a critical ecological and evolutionary driver that needs to be at the forefront of land management actions if conservation targets are to be met. However, the prevailing view is that prescribed fire is riskier than other land management techniques. Perceived risks associated with the application of fire limits its use and reduces agency support for prescribed burning in the private sector. As a result, considerably less cost-share support is given for prescribed fire compared to mechanical techniques. This study tests the general perception that fire is a riskier technique relative to other land management options. Due to the lack of data available to directly test this notion, we use a combination of approaches including 1) a comparison of fatalities resulting from different occupations that are proxies for techniques employed in land management, 2) a comparison of fatalities resulting from wildland fire versus prescribed fire, and 3) an exploration of causal factors responsible for wildland fire-related fatalities. This approach establishes a first approximation of the relative risk of fatality to private citizens using prescribed fire compared to other management techniques that are readily used in ecosystem management. Our data do not support using risks of landowner fatalities as justification for the use of alternative land management techniques, such as mechanical (machine-related) equipment, over prescribed fire. Vehicles and heavy machinery are consistently leading reasons for fatalities within occupations selected as proxies for management techniques employed by ranchers and agricultural producers, and also constitute a large proportion of fatalities among firefighters. Our study provides the foundation for agencies to establish data-driven decisions regarding the degree of support they provide for prescribed burning on private lands.