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Toward Improved Communication about Wildland Fire: Mental Models Research to Identify Information Needs for Natural Resource Management


Address correspondence to Joseph Arvai, SNR Skunkworks, School of Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1085, USA.


The management of natural- and human-induced wildland fires is an intricate process that must balance two considerations: that of fire as a necessary natural disturbance and that of the risks that fire poses. Reconciling tradeoffs between these risks and benefits is contingent upon informed, directed, and two-way communication between wildland fire managers and stakeholders. In an effort to aid with the design of such a communication effort, this study used mental models research to determine the unique wildland fire information and decision-making needs of stakeholders living at the wildland-urban interface of a fire-prone area. While the analysis revealed many similarities in how stakeholders conceptualized the risks and benefits of wildland fire, many misconceptions and important gaps in understanding on the part of both expert and nonexpert respondents were identified.