Coerced resilience in fire management
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Mechanisms underlying the loss of ecological resilience and a shift to an alternate regime with lower ecosystem service provisioning continues to be a leading debate in ecology, particularly in cases where evidence points to human actions and decision-making as the primary drivers of resilience loss and regime change. In this paper, we introduce the concept of coerced resilience as a way to explore the interplay among social power, ecological resilience, and fire management, and to better understand the unintended and undesired regime changes that often surprise ecosystem managers and governing officials. Philosophically, coercion is the opposite of freedom, and uses influence or force to gain compliance among local actors. The coercive force imposed by societal laws and policies can either enhance or reduce the potential to manage for essential structures and functions of ecological systems and, therefore, can greatly alter resilience. Using a classical fire-dependent regime shift from North America (tallgrass prairie to juniper woodland), and given that coercion is widespread in fire management today, we quantify relative differences in resilience that emerge in a policy-coerced fire system compared to a theoretical, policy-free fire system. Social coercion caused large departures in the fire conditions associated with alternative grassland and juniper woodland states, and the potential for a grassland state to emerge to dominance became increasingly untenable with fire as juniper cover increased. In contrast, both a treeless, grassland regime and a co-dominated grass-tree regime emerged across a wide range of fire conditions in the absence of policy controls. The severe coercive forcing present in fire management in the Great Plains, and corresponding erosion of grassland resilience, points to the need for transformative environmental governance and the rethinking of social power structures in modern fire policies.
author list (cited authors)
Twidwell, D., Wonkka, C. L., Wang, H., Grant, W. E., Allen, C. R., Fuhlendorf, S. D., ... Rogers, W. E.