Territories in Transition: how social contexts influence wildland fire adaptive capacity in rural Northwestern European Mediterranean areas

Uyttewaal, Kathleen; Prat-Guitart, Núria; Ludwig, Fulco; Kroeze, Carolien; Langer, E.R.L.


Background: Rural and semi-rural areas are complex and dynamic social-ecological systems, many of which have experienced profound impacts from wildland fires, particularly this decade. Under uncertain climate change conditions, these areas require new adaptive strategies to support landscape and community resilience. While these areas vary widely, some patterns of local social context have become apparent through wildland fire research. These patterns can help decision-makers better understand what influences communities’ abilities to adapt to fire. We focused our study on a northwestern European Mediterranean context, where communities are adapting to wildland fire and other climate change impacts through varied programs and policies. This area is composed of diverse landscapes, cultures, histories, languages and governance structures, but it also shares fire-based learning networks and collaborations, providing a sound indicator of shared elements of social context. Our study analyzed local social contexts in rural areas of Spain, Italy and France and assessed how these may inform adaptive capacity to wildland fire. A two-step process achieved this: (1) a targeted literature review of local social context elements as they relate to wildland fire in Mediterranean Europe; and (2) conducting semi-structured interviews with 20 key experts in rural Mediterranean areas, including fire managers, foresters, local administrators and technicians. Results: Results illustrate numerous shared patterns in rural social contexts that influence local fire adaptive capacity. Dynamic local relationships among residents, local fire knowledge and environmental movements, the role of fire managers and administrators, and embeddedness in broader sociopolitical trends all interconnect to influence local fire adaptive capacity. Some key elements of context can act as primary enablers or barriers to this process, such as the presence (or lack) of local fire knowledge, and the opportunity (or lack thereof) for sustainable local economic development. Results also demonstrate high diversity in terms of governance structures and development trajectories. Conclusions: We argue the need for deepened empirical transdisciplinary research to connect fire and land management tailored to local characteristics. Centering these local perspectives and diverse cultural values is necessary to foster long term adaptive wildland fire management strategies in rural Mediterranean communities and globally.