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Burning Idiots

Communities Debate Tree-Thinning Rules To Avert Fire Danger

... "There are people here who have four to five dead pine trees on their property, and they completely ignore everything," said [Sam] Corsino, chairman of the "fire-wise" committee for his subdivision. Why the ignorance?

"Because they're idiots!" he said. "Some people are not too bright."

Well, there's some refreshing honesty. This whole story -- indeed, the whole private-property fuel management debate -- seems to have this quote as an underlying assumption. The firefighters know best, they say we need to clear defensible space, and it's those selfish idiot homeowners who won't shape up. Mind you, I'm an advocate of defensible space and strong home-construction fireproofing measures. But it bothers me to see the media, as well as many of my fellow fire safety partisans, slipping into this easy technocratism. I think there's a good deal more to homeowner noncompliance with firefighters' recommendations -- there'd better be, or else I'll have nothing to write in my dissertation.

I was also very interested by this bit:

John Mosier and a business called Healthy Acre Forestry have taken matters into their own hands, creating maps that show which Prescott properties meet the local Fire Department's standards for defensible space and which don't.

His group recently sold their mapping services to two forested subdivisions. The idea is to create pressure on homeowners slow to get the thinning religion.

"The map is a very powerful tool," Mosier said.

My basic dissertation approach is looking like it will be framed more in terms of land change and sustainability science than political ecology, but I have a hope of being able to put some of my findings into the context of more "critical" political ecology and constructivist perspectives -- to speak to both sides of the methodological divide in geography, though not necessarily at the same time. There has been some interesting theory produced, usually in the context of postcolonial studies, about how maps are used to frame issues and define the discourse. The role of fire danger maps could be an interesting and different sort of case to apply those ideas to. It's something that I ought to keep in mind, anyway, as I'll certainly want to at least have a look at the fire danger maps that fire councils in NSW are required to produce and use in policymaking.


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