Institutional effects on decision-making and performance in public land agencies: The case of wildfire in the Interior West of the United States
Over the course of the last ten to fifteen years, the American West has witnessed a substantial increase in wildfire frequency, intensity, and destructiveness. Part of the reason for this development is a considerable increase in forest density and forest fuels due to decades of aggressive fire suppression practiced by the U.S. Forest Service and, to an extent, by other public land agencies. Although the Forest Service has received the most attention (and criticism) for this development, other public land agencies are facing the same sort of problems and must adapt management decisions to deal with them. The recent rash of so-called "mega-fires" throughout the West offers an excellent opportunity to examine how different institutional systems are producing different ways of addressing the problem. Using the Institutional Analysis and Development framework, developed by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues at Indiana University's Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, this dissertation presents a comparative examination of the decision-making processes involved in fire planning and management in the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and state trust agencies in the Rocky Mountain West. The project draws largely upon surveys and extensive interviews with fire and fuel officers in these agencies as well as with other actors involved in each agency's wildfire policy arena. For each of these arenas the dissertation examines the formation of fire management objectives, constraints, patterns of interaction among policy actors, and policy outcomes. Fire and fuel officers in these agencies do share many of the same basic objectives concerning fire management and forest health. The different institutions within which they must operate, however, produce different decision-making processes. These processes significantly affect outcome variables including management costs, time expended on projects, and the types of methods used for fire and fuel management.
0617: Public administration
0768: Environmental science