Fostering Environmental Justice through Community-Based Strategies: Addressing Wildfire Risks, Collective Action Challenges, and Policy Implications
Kathryn Sullivan, PhD Student
In the face of complex environmental challenges requiring collective action, community-informed solutions are needed. A growing number of residents live in fire-prone landscapes and address the collective threat of wildfire by utilizing federal financial support to implement strategies through the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs). CWPPs encourage communities to reduce wildfire risk and bolster adaptation actions. However, the effectiveness of past CWPPs are criticized for being solely informed by decision-makers and sitting on a bureaucratic shelf full of unused implementation strategies; this is a procedural injustice. Thus, a gap exists to work collaboratively with community members, stakeholders, and decision-makers to identify and develop mitigation strategies that influence the applicability of CWPPs. This research employs an environmental justice (EJ) lens and community engagement methods to support inclusive collaboration in the town of Nederland, Colorado, which is home to 4,500 residents living in a fire-prone landscape. By using community based and EJ frameworks, researchers analyzed the accepted and prioritized actions, values, and geographic areas of interest for community members. This information was gathered during four community engagement public participatory geographic information system (ppGIS) workshops. The results were compared across and between stakeholder type and demographics and were presented to the Nederland and Timberline Fire Protection Districts’ CWPP decision making team to influence the writing of the community’s CWPP and promote long term and effective mitigation solutions. This research fills a gap in the current understanding of approaches to environmental collective action issues, which is increasingly necessary for climate research in a time of social and environmental crisis.