Mapping the relationship between wildfire and poverty
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This research project uses the concept of community capacity -- a community's ability to protect itself, respond to, and recover from wildfire -- and examines socioeconomic indicators (one component of community capacity) as elements of wildfire risk. Utilizing socioeconomic information, as well as ecological factors, this study set out to investigate, through a geographical-information-systems approach, whether communities most at risk from wildfire are able to access and benefit from federal programs established to serve these communities. In other words, are the dollars, assistance, and fuels-reduction projects hitting the ground in the areas throughout the country that are most at risk? This research project found that federal agencies do not have the information and data necessary to answer this question. Spatial data to inform every aspect of this research -- including data regarding the ecological conditions of federal lands, wildfire protection capability in and around communities, and the federal expenditures under the national fire plan -- are unavailable and/or inadequate. Using the limited data that are currently available, this research focused primarily on the relationship between poverty and populated areas at risk to wildfire. Our research indicates that there is a relationship between poverty and federal land ownership, and that more poor households are located in close proximity to federal lands. Perhaps more significant, the research shows a higher percentage of poor households in inhabited wildland areas that are not considered part of the Wildland Urban Interface the areas that federal agencies and Congress have prioritized to receive the majority of funds for activities under the national fire plan. The research also indicates that, in the one state analyzed, poor households are more likely in areas with low or no fire response capabilities than are non poor households.