Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Colorado media get better at exploring issues raised by bigger residential impact of wildfires

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The latest round of major wildfires, in Northern California, again raises the question of whether news-media fire reporting goes far enough beyond the events to the issues raised by the increasing fire damage along the "urban-rural interface," often a sharp boundary between near-wilderness and densely populated suburbs and exurbs.

"As wildfire trends worsen, it is increasingly important for communities in fire-prone regions to learn from past blazes and adapt to a more flammable future," Adrianne Kroepsch of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Division of the Colorado School of Mines, writes in The Conversation, a journalistic platform for academic researchers, first excerpted on The Daily Yonder.

Rural communities must face thse and other questions, Kroepsch writes: "How much more development should local governments allow in landscapes that have evolved to burn? How should federal agencies manage the overgrown forests generated by wildfire suppression in the past? And as climate change further amplifies wildfire hazards, how can residents of the wildland-urban interface adjust?"

News coverage can be important in such discussions, but "Past research has argued that the press is more interested in fanning the flames than digging down to root causes and finding a smarter way forward," Kroepsch writes. "But in a newly published study of wildfire coverage in Colorado, my co-authors and I found a more complicated story. When communities face multiple wildfires in a row, local media do in fact raise the tough policy questions that need to be asked in communities at the wildland-urban interface – at least for a little while."

Kroepsch and her colleagues studied Colorado news coverage of the state's worst fire season, in 2012. "An unexpected trend appeared: Articles published on wildfires’ anniversaries were more likely to bring up tough policy questions than stories published at other times of year," she reports. However. "On later anniversaries, local media backtracked on this dialogue. As time passed, reporters took to comparing Colorado’s three major burn zones against each other with a focus on which was rebuilding faster and bigger, framing these later commemorations as a race back to the status quo instead of asking what communities should be doing differently."

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