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. 2018 Oct 16;13(10):e0204806.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204806. eCollection 2018.

Democratizing Wildfire Strategies. Do You Realize What It Means? Insights From a Participatory Process in the Montseny Region (Catalonia, Spain)

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Democratizing Wildfire Strategies. Do You Realize What It Means? Insights From a Participatory Process in the Montseny Region (Catalonia, Spain)

Iago Otero et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

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.

Figures

Fig 1
Fig 1. Presentation of the study region.
a) Catalonia within Spain and Europe. b) Location of the Montseny region within the Barcelona province, in Catalonia. c) Main territorial characteristics of the Montseny region. d) Orthophoto of the Montseny region (2015). Settlement, industrial activities and strategic transport infrastructures in extensively forested mountain ranges make the region highly vulnerable to large wildfires. Source: own elaboration with data from Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya and Instituto Geográfico Nacional. Note: “Cardadeu” is misspelled. The correct spelling is “Cardedeu”.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Wildfire pattern and participatory dynamics in the Montseny region.
The region was divided in wildfire contention polygons (purple lines) and suggested strategic management points (light green areas). A method for landscape co-valuation was tested in polygons A and B (red lines). Landscape co-valuation and citizen participation sessions were conducted at the pilot level in polygons 1 to 5. The towns hosting citizen participation sessions (Montseny and Sant Esteve de Palautordera) are indicated. The 1994 large wildfire’s perimeter is likewise shown. Source: own elaboration with data from Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya, Instituto Geográfico Nacional and Catalan Fire Department. Note: “Cardadeu” is misspelled. The correct spelling is “Cardedeu”.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Participatory process for the democratization of wildfire strategies.
Rectangles show the main steps, and blue arrows show the (dis)connection between them. The green oval outlines the potential concrete outcomes of the process. Underlying the participatory process, there is a potential transformative pathway towards a new social-ecological setup. See text for details. Source: own elaboration.
Fig 4
Fig 4. Common GIS.
Displaying and overlapping the GIS layers provided by the actors supported the landscape co-valuation exercise and was key to build a legitimate participatory process. Here we provide two examples. a) Forest management schemes in force, provided by the Forest Property Centre. The extent of land under planned forest management served as an indication of the potential to develop joint efforts for wildfire prevention, landscape management and enhancement of regional economic activities. Overlapping this layer with the one on settlements made clear a challenge for wildfire risk reduction: the integration of forest and urban planning, currently under disconnected agencies. b) Strategic management points planned by the Fire Department and landscape management planned by the Montseny Association of Forest Landowners. The common GIS allowed identifying areas of convergence and complementarity between public wildfire prevention criteria and private landscape management interests, revealing potential synergies between actors. Source: own elaboration with data from Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya, Instituto Geográfico Nacional, Forest Property Centre, Montseny Association of Forest Landowners and Catalan Fire Department. Note: “Cardadeu” is misspelled. The correct spelling is “Cardedeu”.
Fig 5
Fig 5. Example of the posters used in the participatory exhibitions to highlight the values found in each polygon (polygon 1 poster).
The maps showed the logic of creating a common GIS, where values and land-use conflicts and synergies among actors could be visualized. As an example, in the posters we compared the map of the Montseny Association of Forest Landowners and the Forest Property Centre (upper part) with the zoning of the Montseny Natural Park (lower part; zoning currently annulled). In the right column there was a box for each category of landscape values, with a synthesis of the values found for that category, and the average numerical assessment of their relative importance as compared to the rest of the polygons. Both the text and the numerical assessment came from the input of group 1 and 2 actors. Source: own elaboration based on input from the participatory process. The maps within the poster contain data from Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya, Instituto Geográfico Nacional, Forest Property Centre, Montseny Association of Forest Landowners, Montseny Natural Park and Catalan Fire Department.
Fig 6
Fig 6. Poster used in the participatory exhibitions, containing general information on the project.
The poster included the study region, goals, actors, method of landscape co-valuation in wildfire contention polygons, public participation procedure, and subsequent steps. Source: own elaboration based on input from the participatory process. The maps within the posters contain data from Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya, Instituto Geográfico Nacional, and Catalan Fire Department.
Fig 7
Fig 7. Interactive poster where the participants of the exhibitions were asked to attach a yellow sticker in their place of residence and green stickers in those places that they used (for shopping, leisure, etc.).
On the right, we have superimposed pictures of this poster after the exhibition of 23–24 April (above) and 4 May (below). Source: own elaboration based on input from the participatory process. The maps within the posters contain data from Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya, Instituto Geográfico Nacional, Montseny Natural Park (zoning currently annulled) and Catalan Fire Department.
Fig 8
Fig 8. Results of the public prioritization of polygons (total, exhibition 1 and exhibition 2).
Overall, 68 votes were casted, distributing 1020 points. Exhibition 1 occurred in Sant Esteve de Palautordera the 23rd and 24th of April 2016. 54 votes were casted, distributing 810 points. Exhibition 2 occurred in Montseny the 4th of May 2016. 14 votes were casted, distributing 210 points. Source: own elaboration.
Fig 9
Fig 9. Summary of the wildfire strategy designed by GRAF and discussed with the actors.
a) The strategy was prepared for a wildfire starting in polygon 1 (red star) and driven by west winds. Red arrow: front spread (high intensity); yellow arrow: flank spread (medium intensity); green arrow: back spread (low intensity); blue lines: wildfire contention sub-polygons, used to estimate the potential area burnt. b) Potential area burnt according to the success or failure of the strategy, as well as fuel conditions. Grey, blue and green areas correspond to a wildfire starting in sub-polygon 11 (discussed with the actors). The orange one corresponds to another starting point, which could eventually be discussed in future exercises. c) Strategic Management Points (SMP) that need to be developed to reach wildfire friendly landscape structures and make possible the strategy under discussion. Developing the SMP in polygon 5 would provide an opportunity for the Fire Department to contain the wildfire in the valley bottom. If this would work the burnt area would resemble the grey shape in Fig 9B. Instead, if this SMP is not developed, the burnt area would resemble the blue or green shapes. As a complement to this SMP, GRAF suggested to develop the SMP between polygon 1 and polygon 5 to reduce spotting distance and facilitate wildfire confinement in the grey shape. Source: own elaboration with data from Catalan Fire Department.

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References

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Grant support

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.
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