Social Constructs of Fuels in the interface 2

This pilot research project applied the innovative process of ‘place mapping’. This new approach for the fire and land management industry allows agencies to better understand how communities in rural/urban areas perceive native vegetation in the context of their landscape. It can help agencies to understand why communities might oppose prescribed burning and may not undertake fire mitigation measures.

The research team of Associate Professor Ruth Beilin and Dr Karen Reid developed a multi-layered, place-mapping exercise to interpret everyday landscapes.

“Research participants who were members of the community described what they did in a normal week in that landscape – things like where they go for a walk, how they look after the cows, how do the kids get to school?” explained Associate Professor Beilin.

“We then introduced the element of risk into that, and asked participants ‘how does this work when there is a fire?’, or ‘how do you think about this in relation to bushfire?’ This process allowed participants to establish how they live in the landscape first, without fire threat”

The place-mapping process is based on three underpinning ideas:

• How people use their memory to construct their landscape.
• What it means to them to talk about ‘place’.
• How fire and land managers can harness these concepts to support communities in reorganising and improving their fire mitigation practices.

The place-mapping process was coupled with an in-depth interview. Each participant created a ‘mud map’ of their local and regional social and ecological networks on butcher’s paper. The ‘mud map’ is a visualisation aid for memory. The researchers questioned the participants as they created their maps, and recorded and later transcribed and analysed participants' stories about the places.

By combining the mud map and the interview, a sense of place emerged from a whole of landscape understanding: ecological connectivity (expressed in the map) and social practice and connectivity (being in a place long enough to become part of it).

“Once they have their map they are talking about it as a landscape,” said Associate Professor Beilin. “They (research participant) understand that they are not living in isolation. That is something really interesting, as most messages are just targeted at the householder.

The research found that management practice that isolates individual assets from the landscape may overlook the significance of those assets in creating an overall sense of place. The asset of value is the landscape itself – the mountains or hills and the trees – as much as the house. Furthermore, these findings put prescribed burning into a new perspective. This practice may be viewed as managing public land, but to residents it may appear that part of their home is being burned.

Place-mapping techniques may help fire planners and community engagement managers better understand how people view the landscape in different ways. It further showed place mapping is an additional tool fire and land management agencies can use to better work with communities to take action to reduce bushfire risk.

Lead end user Mike Wouters from South Australia’s Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources reinforced this. “This tool will help facilitate better conversations. We need to have stronger conversations with the community to find the win/wins.”

Connected to this project was a PhD study by Tarnya Kruger (University of Melbourne), who examined the extent to which ‘local knowledge’ can jeopardise or enhance the work of firefighters.

Researchers have developed a place mapping process and guide for how to engage with your community about fire management.

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