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Fires, forests and conflict in times of rapid environmental change in Sweden and Australia

Eckerberg, K. and Buizer, M. (2014) Fires, forests and conflict in times of rapid environmental change in Sweden and Australia. In: Sustaining Forests, Sustaining People: The Role of Research XXIV IUFRO World Congress, 5 - 11 October, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.


Environmental problems seem to be increasingly complex, hard to solve by instrumental rationality, and laden with conflict when they demand human interventions in nature. The use of fire is one such contested intervention. This paper examines the role of conflict and deliberation in forest fire management practices in Sweden and Australia whose landscapes have historically been shaped by fire. In Sweden, burning is gradually emerging on foresters’ and nature conservationists’ agendas for nature conservation purposes. In Australia, prescribed burning has been practiced on a relatively broad scale, chiefly to prevent larger fires and also for nature conservation purposes. Touching on a wide range of values, including biological diversity, human safety, traditional heritage and professional identity, fire management is often the topic of fierce debate. Contemporary politics places high expectations on collaborative governance, drawing attention to the twin concepts of conflict management and deliberation. How does collaborative governance manifest itself relating to fire management? And what are its chances considering the Swedish and Australian contexts with their strong reliance on technical scientific expertise? We conclude that forms of local, collaborative governance in which conflicts and difference have a place, rather than generalized knowledge, are promising but rare processes to move forward.

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