Finding common ground: Agreement on increasing wildfire risk crosses political lines

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Wildfire is a growing threat in the western US, driven by high fuel loads, a warming climate, and rising human activity in the wildland urban interface. Diverse stakeholders must collaborate to mitigate risk and adapt to changing conditions. Communication strategies in collaborative efforts may be most effective if they align with local perspectives on wildfire and climate change. We
investigate drivers of residents’ subjective perceptions regarding both issues in eastern Oregon using 2018 survey data, and examine objective evidence regarding local fuel loads, climate, and
wildfire to identify trends and contextualize residents’ perceptions. We find that sociopolitical identity strongly predicts climate change beliefs, and that identity and climate beliefs predict both
perceptions of recent past climate and likely future trends. Political influences on climate perceptions are strongest among people whose friends mostly belong to the same party. In contrast, perceptions about future wildfire risks are largely independent of climate-change beliefs, and of individual or peer-group politics. Most people accurately perceive the rising frequency of large wildfires, and expect this trend to continue. Decision makers have an opportunity to engage diverse stakeholders in developing policies to mitigate increasing wildfire risk without invoking
climate change, which remains politically polarizing in some communities.

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