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Landowner Perceptions of Risks Associated with Prescribed Fire Management

Ecologists recognize that fire and herbivory are essential to maintaining habitat quality in grassland ecosystems. Prescribed fire and grazing are typically used on public reserves to increase biodiversity, improve grassland productivity, and control encroachment of woody plants. However, these tools, particularly prescribed fire, have not been widely adopted by private landowners. Fire suppression and prescribed fire are strategies that present competing risks to owners who make management decisions. We explore landowner perceptions of risk associated with (1) eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) encroachment, and (2) the use of prescribed fire to control woody species in the Grand River Grasslands of Iowa and Missouri, USA. We found that although mapping data of eastern redcedar in this region showed substantial encroachment over the past three decades, concept mapping of landowner beliefs and in-person interviews of local community leaders revealed that perceived risks associated with prescribed fire often outweighed those associated with loss of forage and grassland habitats.

Dr. Lois Wright Morton is a professor of  rural sociology at Iowa State University in the Department of Sociology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her areas of research include civic structure, social relationships and human dimensions of natural resource management, performance-based agricultural environmental management, and impacts of long term weather change on agricultural land use decision making. Her book, Pathways to Better Water Quality: The Citizen Effect (2011) focuses on farmer-led watershed management and citizen solutions to agricultural land uses. She has also conducted research on working lands in tall grass prairies (Perceptions of Landowners Concerning Conservation, Grazing, Fire, and Eastern Redcedar Management in Tallgrass Prairie. Rangeland Ecology & Mtg 63:6:645-654,2010); Landowners' perceptions of risk in grassland management: woody plant encroachment and prescribed fire. Ecology and Society 19 (2):41; Nature Reserves as Catalysts for Landscape Change, (April) Frontiers, 10 (3), 144-152.)