Wildfire, climate, and perceptions in Northeast Oregon

Abstract

Wildfire poses a rising threat in the western USA, fueled by synergies between historical fire suppression, changing land use, insects and disease, and shifts toward a drier, warmer climate. The rugged landscapes of northeast Oregon, with their historically forest- and resource-based economies, have been one of the areas affected. A 2011 survey found area residents highly concerned about fire and insect threats, but not about climate change. In 2014 we conducted a second survey that, to explore this apparent disconnect, included questions about past and future summertime (fire season) temperatures. Although regional temperatures have warmed in recent decades at twice the global rate, accompanied by increasing dryness and fire risks, the warming itself is recognized by only 40 % of our respondents. Awareness of recent warming proves unrelated to individual characteristics that might indicate experience on the land: old-timer versus newcomer status, year-round versus seasonal residence, and ownership of forested land. Perceptions of past warming and expectations of future warming are more common among younger respondents and less common among Tea Party supporters. The best-educated partisans stand farthest apart. Perceptions about local temperatures that are important for adaptation planning thus follow ideological patterns similar to beliefs about global climate change.

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Acknowledgments

The Communities and Forests in Oregon (CAFOR) project is supported by a grant from the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative of the US Department of Agriculture (2014-68002-21782). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the USDA. Grant Foster inspired the analysis in Fig. 2. We appreciate continued collaboration with Nils Christoffersen of Wallowa Resources, and with Paul Oester and Bob Parker of the Oregon State University College of Forestry Extension.

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Correspondence to Lawrence C. Hamilton.

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Hamilton, L.C., Hartter, J., Keim, B.D. et al. Wildfire, climate, and perceptions in Northeast Oregon. Reg Environ Change 16, 1819–1832 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-015-0914-y

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Wildfire
  • Survey
  • Perceptions
  • Oregon
  • Global warming
  • Drought
  • Insects
  • Forests