Rethinking resilience to wildfire

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Record-breaking fire seasons are becoming increasingly common worldwide, and large wildfires are having extraordinary impacts on people and property, despite years of investments to support social–ecological resilience to wildfires. This has prompted new calls for land management and policy reforms as current land and fire management approaches have been unable to effectively respond to the rapid changes in climate and development patterns that strongly control fire behaviour and continue to exacerbate the risks and hazards to human communities. Promoting social–ecological resilience in rapidly changing, fire-susceptible landscapes requires adoption of multiple perspectives of resilience, extending beyond ‘basic resilience’ (or bouncing back to a similar state) to include ‘adaptive resilience’ and ‘transformative resilience’, which require substantial and explicit changes to social–ecological systems. Clarifying these different perspectives and identifying where they will be most effective helps prioritize efforts to better coexist with wildfire in an increasingly flammable world.

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Fig. 1: Specifying basic, adaptive and transformative-resilience goals based on social–ecological context.

Lily Jane Clarke (a); Forest Service, USDA (b,d); Oregon Department of Forestry under a Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0 (c); Bureau of Land Management (e); US DOD, (f; the appearance of US Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DOD endorsement); Ray Ford, (g); Craig D. Allen / USGS (h).


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This manuscript was the result of a workshop held at the University of Montana in May 2017, titled ‘Defining ecological and social resilience in fire-prone landscapes’, funded by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) through award 16-3-01-24 to P.E.H., A.L.M., C.M., D.B.M. and E.C.M. Additional support came from the National Science Foundation, through awards BCS-1539820 and BCS-1832486 to D.B.M., DEB-1655121 to P.E.H., DEB-1719905 to Z.R. and DMS-1520873 to C.K. Z.R. was also supported by JFSP award 16-3-01-04.

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D.B.M., T.S., P.E.H., M.K., B.J.H., E.C.M., C.S., C.M. and A.L.M. developed the outline and conceptual framework; all authors contributed ideas, provided critical feedback and wrote the manuscript.

Correspondence to David B. McWethy.

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