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Exploring the ‘Issue-Attention Cycle’: Does Length of Time Since Wildfire Predict Social Acceptability of Prescribed Burning?

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Abstract

Social acceptability of environmental management actions, such as prescribed burning used to reduce wildfire risk, is critical to achieving positive outcomes. However, environmental managers often need to implement strategies over a long time period, and sustaining long-term community support can be challenging. Public attention to environmental issues is argued to vary over time, with acceptability of management interventions theorized to decrease with time since experiencing an environmental problem. However, it is unknown whether a person needs to personally experience the problem to maintain support, or if hearing about it in the media is sufficient. In this paper we explore whether acceptability of prescribed burning used to reduce wildfire risk declines with length of time since personally experiencing a wildfire. In a sample of 4390 Australians, acceptability of prescribed burning was not predicted by length of time since personally experiencing a wildfire, or perceptions of wildfire risk. Significant predictors included perceptions of local fuel loads, and of positive and negative impacts of prescribed burning, suggesting addressing these issues may be more effective in maintaining long-term support for wildfire management policies than investing in increasing attention to wildfire risk. This suggests environmental managers can design communication strategies to maintain support for environmental actions even in the absence of an individual personally experiencing the problem the action is designed to address.

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Mylek, M. R., & Schirmer, J. (2020). Exploring the ‘Issue-Attention Cycle’: Does Length of Time Since Wildfire Predict Social Acceptability of Prescribed Burning? Environmental Management, 65(4), 433–447. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-019-01251-x

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