John Milligan, Political Science

Advisor: Kevon Rhiney, Geography

This project promotes a new explanatory paradigm to assess the “new normal” of wildland fires with their longer-lasting, more expansive and expensive burn seasons. Policymakers have long interacted with wildfires in a narrow approach --to suppress all fires as part of a fire exclusion paradigm. Increasingly, however, wildfires are becoming too large and intense to put out before they reach human communities. Tension exists among the driving forces and causal factors of increasingly devastating wildfires in California. This paper frames two lines of analysis at the center of explaining increased costs and intensity associated with more devastating wildfires: A biophysical discourse and a socially critical discourse. The biophysical focuses on ecological factors, linking worsening effects of climate change to longer droughts, higher temperatures, and other factors that underpin increased devastation of wildfires. The socially critical frames issues through human action/inaction, highlighting poor forest management practices, human-started wildfire accounting for a majority of fires, and increased human migration to wildfire-prone wildland-urban interfaces. I contend that approaching causes, effects, and responses to wildland fire in a more holistic socio-ecological framework will help stakeholders create a clearer picture ofwhat factors influence wildfire destructive capacity, including the specific and interlinked factors, social and ecological, which influence this capacity.