Fire, forests and people: understanding the lived experience of fire types and governance in new eras of flammability

Fire types are diverse. Fire is used, managed and understood by people around the world in a variety of ways and is used for various purposes. It has been part of people-nature interactions for millennia in many forest landscapes and has enabled the persistence, resistance and autonomy of rural communities. However, despite the diversity of fire-types, associated knowledge’s, people-nature relations, and benefits of some fires, there is a strong and influential mainstreamed understanding that conflates this plurality and represents all fire as bad: a single nefarious fire. 

This conflation has been damaging to traditional fire-users and to nature. It has increased flammability in many regions impacting human and non-human nature, caused numerous injustices and seeded further marginalization of traditional and Indigenous values, knowledge’s and land management strategies. It has its roots in colonial legacies of domination and control, and contributes to prohibitive policies limiting fire use and management around the world. Contemporary peaks in flammability and uncontrolled fires have magnified the representation of all fire as bad. Certainly rises in flammability are creating new challenges and burdens for forest communities. They both use fire in numerous ways and are most heavily impacted when their territories are degraded by unwanted fires.

The purpose of this working group is to create a space for those working on the human dimensions of forest fires, and for those in related disciplines hoping to ground their efforts through interdisciplinary links. Together we will share our knowledge, create new ideas, develop collaborations and help to increase the research effort focused on the lived experience of forest fires in new eras of flammability. The working group will contribute towards the growth of a community of researchers, practitioners and advocates who are interested in shifting the narrative of forest fires away from the present focus on carbon and biodiversity, to a narrative that extends to capture the lived experience of these changes. Our previous work shows that narratives grounded in the human dimensions may be more salient to a broader set of stakeholders with the power to improve the justice and governance of forest fires. 

Some of the themes that will be addressed in our work are: 

  • Visibilise the diversity of fire types to progress justice-centered fire governance
  • Shift from a carbon and biodiversity focus to an integrated understanding of fire 
  • Catalyze interdisciplinary connections and knowledge exchange
  • Explore how Connected Conservation approaches might advance positive fire futures
  • Pursue a health and wellbeing focus related to forest fires
  • Improve understanding of integrated fire management strategies in forest landscapes

Key papers of relevance to this group

Carmenta, R., Barlow, J., Lima, M. G. B., Berenguer, E., Choiruzzad, S., Estrada-Carmona, N., … & Hicks, C. (2023). Connected Conservation: Rethinking conservation for a telecoupled world. Biological Conservation282, 110047. 

Carmenta, R., Cammelli, F., Dressler, W., Verbicaro, C., & Zaehringer, J. G. (2021). Between a rock and a hard place: The burdens of uncontrolled fire for smallholders across the tropics. World Development145, 105521.

Carmenta, R., Zabala, A., Daeli, W., & Phelps, J. (2017). Perceptions across scales of governance and the Indonesian peatland fires. Global Environmental Change46, 50-59.

Cunningham, C. X., Williamson, G. J., & Bowman, D. M. (2024). Increasing frequency and intensity of the most extreme wildfires on Earth. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1-6.

Lapola, D. M., Pinho, P., Barlow, J., Aragão, L. E., Berenguer, E., Carmenta, R., … & Walker, W. S. (2023). The drivers and impacts of Amazon forest degradation. Science379(6630), eabp8622.

Welch, J. R., Brondizio, E. S., & Coimbra Jr, C. E. (2022). Remote spatial analysis lacking ethnographic grounding mischaracterizes sustainability of Indigenous burning regime. Biota Neotropica22(1), e20211220.

If you are keen to contribute to this working group, then please send an email to Rachel Carmenta (Chair) at r.carmenta@uea.ac.uk.

Chair: Rachel Carmenta, Assistant Professor of Climate Change and Global Development, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and School of Global Development, University of East Anglia.