Integrating Human Health Risks from Fire into Forest Restoration Planning

This project would involve collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and other stakeholders

The frequency and severity of wildfires in the Western United States are expected to increase in the future even under the most optimistic climate change scenarios. Wildfires are already having significant adverse impacts on both forest and human health. Beyond the obvious dangers to human life and property so dramatically experienced in recent years, wildfire smoke can cause healthy populations to experience acute health effects, such as nose, throat, and eye irritation and shortness of breath or headaches. Exposure can also exacerbate or increase the risk of heart and lung diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The absolute number of premature deaths from fire-related PM2.5 could double in the next century. As a result, stakeholders outside of the conservation sector are increasingly interested in understanding how conservation can be a tool for reducing human health risks from wildfires. At the same time, the conservation sector is increasingly recognizing the need to incorporate human health considerations into ecological forestry planning. This translational work is a much-needed step for bridging expertise from public health, conservation, forest and fire ecology and management, and community development sectors that all have the common goal of reducing the severity of wildfires consistent with ecological forestry principles. We bring together a diverse multi-sector, multi-disciplinary group of practitioners, decision-makers, and researchers to more fully incorporate human health implications of smoke from wild and managed forest fires into forest restoration planning and implementation. The proposed work will integrate human health risks into spatial and temporal planning for forest management. Additionally, this working group will develop communication and policy strategies to address social and regulatory barriers to the reintroduction of frequent fire as an ecological necessity and human health benefit in fire-prone ecosystems of the Western U.S.