Wildfire, climate, and perceptions in Northeast Oregon

TitleWildfire, climate, and perceptions in Northeast Oregon
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsHamilton, LC
Secondary AuthorsHartter, J
Tertiary AuthorsKeim, BD
Subsidiary AuthorsBoag, AE, Palace, MW, Stevens, FR, Ducey, MJ
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Start Page1819
Keywordsclimate change and fire, drought, insects and fire, technical reports and journal articles

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.