The political economy of prescribed fires : a land agency's decision to burn

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


National land agencies ignite hundreds of prescribed fires every year throughout the Rocky Mountain West. When a national land agency proposes a prescribed fire they must by statute take public opinion into account before igniting the burn. The public interest of a prescribed fire may be to decrease the acreage of the burn in order to save animal habitat or possibly to stop a burn entirely. A theoretical model where a land agency maximizes a net social expected benefit was used to develop comparative static results in the empirical analysis. Using county Sierra Club membership as a proxy for protests, this thesis analyzes acreage differences and timing differences of prescribed fires. First, a probit model is used to evaluate the probability of a wildland urban interface prescribed fire. The regression results present a higher probability of wildland urban interface prescribed fires at the median of county Sierra Club membership as a percent of county population, ceteris paribus. County Sierra Club membership as a percent of county population was not statistically significant in explaining proportion acreage changes from proposed to actual acres burnt. Timing differences, on the other hand, were found to increase as county Sierra Club membership as a percent of county population increased, ceteris paribus. The empirical results imply that land agencies treat their prescribed fires that are in the wildland urban interface the same. There are also timing differences that can be explained through pressure from group interest in land agency policies.




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