Participatory planning networks made of government agencies, stakeholders, citizens and scientists are receiving attention as a potential pathway to build resilient landscapes in the face of increased wildfire impacts due to suppression policies and land-use and climate changes. A key challenge for these networks lies in incorporating local knowledge and social values about landscape into operational wildfire management strategies. As large wildfires overcome the suppression capacity of the fire departments, such strategies entail difficult decisions about intervention priorities among different regions, values and socioeconomic interests. Therefore there is increasing interest in developing tools that facilitate decision-making during emergencies. In this paper we present a method to democratize wildfire strategies by incorporating social values about landscape in both suppression and prevention planning. We do so by reporting and critically reflecting on the experience from a pilot participatory process conducted in a region of Catalonia (Spain). There, we built a network of researchers, practitioners and citizens across spatial and governance scales. We combined knowledge on expected wildfires, landscape co-valuation by relevant actors, and citizen participation sessions to design a wildfire strategy that minimized the loss of social values. Drawing on insights from political ecology and transformation science, we discuss what the attempt to democratize wildfire strategies entails in terms of power relationships and potential for social-ecological transformation. Based on our experience, we suggest a trade-off between current wildfire risk levels and democratic management in the fire-prone regions of many western countries. In turn, the political negotiation about the landscape effects of wildfire expert knowledge is shown as a potential transformation pathway towards lower risk landscapes that can re-define agency over landscape and foster community re-learning on fire. We conclude that democratizing wildfire strategies ultimately entails co-shaping the landscapes and societies of the future.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
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This research was funded by the German Excellence Initiative through the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) of the Humboldt University of Berlin. The public participation sessions were partly funded by the Spanish government´s project CSO2014-54513-R (SINALECO). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. There was no additional external funding received for this study.