David A Litman/Shutterstock

Local Officials Lack Capacity to Mitigate Wildfires through Land-Use Regulation

After the fire: Perceptions of land use planning to reduce wildfire risk in eight communities across the United States
Miranda H. Mockrin, Hillary K. Fishler, Susan I. Stewart
Publication Date:
Find Full Text

Wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity across the United States because of climate change. And as residential development expands into areas with wildland vegetation, wildfires have caused increasing damage to local communities. Local governments, through their ability to regulate land use and housing characteristics, shoulder much of the responsibility of reducing future wildfire losses through mitigation efforts. But, even after experiencing a wildfire, local governments may hesitate to use land-use planning and regulations to reduce risk.

In a recent study, researchers from the United States Forest Service, Oregon State University, and the University of Wisconsin interviewed 80 government officials and local leaders to understand their perceptions of land-use regulations and their role in mitigating risk of and damage from wildfires. They conducted these interviews in eight study sites (five in the West, two in the Great Plains, and one in the Southeast) where a fire had destroyed at least 20 homes. Interview participants included city planners, emergency managers, fire chiefs, foresters, and natural resource managers. The researchers also interviewed real estate agents and other community leaders and stakeholders actively involved in wildlife recovery and mitigation.

Key findings
Policy implications

The authors identified technical assistance as one potential policy option that could increase knowledge of wildfire risks and build capacity to implement plans and regulations. Particularly in rural areas or communities with reduced capacity, technical assistance could provide autonomy for regulation-resistant localities while providing mitigation assistance that considers the context of communities’ unique values and resources.

Wildfire is unique among hazards in that the threat continues to evolve along with development, requiring local communities to adapt strategies over time. Successful examples of using land-use planning and regulations, over time, will be increasingly valuable in disseminating the concept of fire adapted communities.