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Rethinking the maps: A case study of knowledge incorporation in Canadian wildfire risk management and planning

Sherry, Jennifer, Neale, Timothy, McGee, Tara K., Sharpe, Maria
Journal of environmental management 2019 v.234 pp. 494-502
boreal forests, case studies, decision making, fire regime, interviews, issues and policy, land management, loci, planning, politics, risk, risk management, social factors, stakeholders, wildfires, wildland fire management, Alberta
As the natural fire regimes of Canada's Boreal forests have been transformed by dynamic social, economic, ecological and political drivers, wildfires have become a locus of increasingly complex land management decisions. But while, in Canada and elsewhere, social researchers have examined communities at risk of experiencing wildfire, the agencies and practitioners responsible for wildfire management have thus far been underrepresented in empirical inquiry. This article presents a case study of wildfire management in northern Alberta, examining how different forms of knowledge and experiences were incorporated into the creation of a new plan to support decision-making. Findings from interviews and a workshop confirm that ‘science’ in such applied contexts is not a pure entity. Instead, the objects represented internally and externally as ‘scientific’ have necessarily been shaped by the values and priorities of the individuals and institutions that have constructed them. Further, this case study revealed social factors that support the maintenance of institutional status quos, such as the commitment to total wildfire suppression policy, despite broad agreement amongst participants about superior alternatives. These findings support the need for further research on wildfire management agencies, and suggest that progress in wildfire management may be limited by mismatched expectations of ‘good’ policy between stakeholder groups and by practitioners' conceptions of their own institutional identity.