Public and Agency Perceptions of Smoke from Wild and Prescribed Fire
Smoke is a growing concern for communities as well as land and air quality managers. It affects air quality across landscapes much larger than the originating fire and can have significant negative impacts on nearby communities. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released proposed rules for how states will work to meet the ambient air quality standards for particulate matter, which were lowered in 2013. At the same time, wildfires seem to grow in number and size every year, producing major smoke impacts on communities across the country, and underscoring the need to reduce fuels on unburned landscapes to reduce the risk of future fire events. Managers and landowners wishing to use fire as a tool for fuel reduction (i.e., prescribed fire, pile burns) could face significant barriers, both because of air quality standards and because of public concern for smoke impacts. Accordingly, it is important to understand public beliefs regarding smoke, especially focusing on what factors may influence acceptance of smoke emissions. In this presentation I will present findings from three projects funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, the Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center (WWETAC), and the National Science Foundation. Data includes interviews among forest and fire managers, air quality regulators, and some community group members, as well as public survey data from dozens of communities across the country. This presentation will focus on the major challenges identified by interview participants regarding smoke management, communication strategies that were identified as useful for overcoming these challenges, and factors that may influence public tolerance of smoke from different sources (e.g., wildland fire, prescribed fire, agricultural burns).