The value of assessing public perceptions: Wildland fire and defensible space

Martha C. Monroe, Kristen C. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Fire is a challenge in the wildland-urban interface. Although resource managers encourage residents to create defensible space, many do not. This study illustrates the value of using a needs assessment to better understand perceptions of an audience in order to develop meaningful messages and materials. In this case, our audience is residents of forested areas of Florida and Minnesota at risk of wildland fire. By using in-depth interviews, we explore their perceptions of their landscape, their perception of risk, and their willingness to reduce that risk. Their perceptions can be used to evaluate current wildfire communication tools and suggest ways to modify them to inform and change the behavior of residents. Printed materials emphasis the threat of fire and what to do. Interview data suggest that emphasizing relevant values: privacy, wildlife, and recreation opportunities, as well as acknowledging neighborhood norms, could be helpful to motivate residents when the threat of fire is not sufficient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-117
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Environmental Education and Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank John Dwyer, Pam Jakes, Paul Gobster, Sarah McCaffrey, Herbert Schroeder, and Susan Stewart for their insightful questions and support. We recognize Pam Archer, Alison Bowers, Janice Easton, Jane Inouye, Jayne Fingerman Johnson, Larry Korhnak, Mark Myers, and Cotton Randall for provided invaluable assistance with photographs, data collection, identifying communities, and data organization. This research was funded in part by the US Forest Service North Central Research Station and the Minnesota Experiment Station, and is Florida Agricultural Research Station and Journal Series No. R -09660. Address correspondence to Martha Monroe, SFRC, UF, PO Box 110410, Gainesville, FL 32611-0410. E-mail:


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