Project E: The Ethics and Equity of Prescribed Burns

In the last couple of decades, California has been subject to increased fire risk as a result of a combination of climate change and sub-optimal fire policies. In response to this challenge, the state is moving towards adopting “prescribed burn” policies that aim to reduce fire risk in high-risk areas across the state using small, controlled burning of wildlands. Such policies will confer fire risk benefits, but may also impose costs on diverse communities across the state. The distribution of these costs and benefits implicates questions of equity, fairness, and ethics. This project will investigate the ethics and equity of prescribed burns and other related policies starting with a careful analysis of the parties most likely to be affected as well as the relevant interests at stake.



Research Questions:

  • What are California’s current objectives, policies, and barriers for prescribed burns?
  • Which communities are most likely to be harmed by the current approach?
  • How can those harmed be more greatly included in decision-making, or otherwise what steps can be taken to mitigate harms?

Sample Tasks:

  1. Literature reviews to Identify what are California’s current objectives, policies, and “barriers” for prescribed burns? Also
    1. Examining unvoiced ecological risks around the use of burns.
      1. E.g. the effects of burns in Chapparal(?) vs. in forest environments
    2. Heterogeneity in the policy value of burns depending on the micro-climates involved
  2. Interviews/research/digital surveys to identify which communities are most likely to be harmed by the current approach? (incl. soundings on decision-making communities)
    1. Balancing funding vs scientific credibility in “voice actors”
  3. Design exercise for approaches to incorporate the voice of stakeholder communities into decision-making?
    1. “Design a public bathrooms for LA in 2030”
    2. Countering NIMBY effects when taking community stakeholder norms into accounts
    3. Voice mechanisms for communities: “air boards”, town-halls, & ???


  • System map of California controlled burn policies and players
  • Equity analysis framework (with possible visualization)
  • Set of recommendations for addressing equity and ethical challenges
  • Community engagement plans for communities most greatly affected

lead: Ben Bourdreaux