A burning issue: Reviewing the sociodemographic and environmental justice aspects of the wildfire literature

TitleA burning issue: Reviewing the sociodemographic and environmental justice aspects of the wildfire literature
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsThomas, AS, Escobedo, FJ, Sloggy, MR, Sánchez, JJ
JournalPlos One
Date Published07/2022
Keywordsdemographic aspects, Environmental justice, Literature review, socioeconomic impacts, technical reports and journal articles, wildland urban interface

Larger and more severe wildfires are becoming more frequent and impacting different communities and human settlements. Much of the scientific literature and media on wildfires has focused on area of ecosystems burned and numbers of structures destroyed. Equally unprecedented, but often less reported, are the increasing socioeconomic impacts different people and communities face from wildfires. Such information seems to indicate an emerging need to account for wildfire effects on peri-urban or wildland urban interface (WUI) areas, newer socio-demographic groups, and disadvantaged communities. To address this, we reviewed the socio-demographic dimensions of the wildfire literature using an environmental justice (EJ) lens. Specifically using a literature review of wildfires, human communities, social vulnerability, and homeowner mitigation, we conducted bibliometric and statistical analyses of 299 publications. The majority of publications were from the United States, followed by Canada and Australia, and most dealt with homeowner mitigation of risk, defensible space, and fuel treatments in WUI areas. Most publications studied the direct effects of wildfire related damage. Secondary impacts such as smoke, rural and urban communities, and the role of poverty and language were less studied. Based on a proposed wildfire-relevant EJ definition, the first EJ publication was in 2004, but the term was first used as a keyword in 2018. Studies in WUI communities statistically decreased the likelihood that a publication was EJ relevant. There was a significant relationship between EJ designation and inclusion of race/ethnicity and poverty variables in the study. Complexity across the various definitions of EJ suggest that it should not be used as a quantitative or binary metric; but as a lens to better understand socio-ecological impacts to diverse communities. We present a wildfire-relevant definition to potentially guide policy formulation and account for social and environmental justice issues.