Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Recreation Management

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Stephen F. McCool

Commitee Members

Ron Wakimoto, Sarah Halvorson


fire, place attachment, place meanings, sense of place, social acceptability, wilderness


University of Montana


This study was conducted to explore the social dimensions of wilderness fire management. I set out to answer the question what role does an individual’s attachment to place play in determining the acceptability of management actions directed towards fire? I feel that problems will arise if management agencies attempt to restore natural fire regimes to wilderness areas without accounting for the effects on meanings and values different people attach to landscapes. I used a qualitative method and conducted guided interviews with 27 people from three different groups: (1) fire and wilderness management personnel from the Bitterroot National Forest, (2) residents of the Bitterroot Valley, and (3) people who recreate in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. I used an established framework for mapping place meanings to guide the analysis of this study. It identifies four different meanings people attach to places: (1) inherent/aesthetic, (2) instrumental/goal-directed, (3) cultural/symbolic and (4) individual/expressive meanings. The goal of each interview was to determine the meaning each individual attached to special places and whether they find the current approach to fire management acceptable. All four meanings were represented by the respondents, and a majority of them found the current approach to fire management in the SBW acceptable. They felt that fire is a natural and positive agent of change on the landscape and that to truly be Wilderness the Selway-Bitterroot should be characterized by a naturally occurring fire regime. Only two of the twenty-seven respondents in this study found the current approach to fire management in the SBW unacceptable. This study attempted to make it clear that accounting for meanings people attach to a particular landscape can be useful when managers are implementing new programs or prescriptive actions that may alter the physical conditions of a site. Wildland fire has the potential to significantly alter the conditions of places. The social impacts of these changes should be accounted for in the early stages of forest planning. It would be useful for managers to work closely with the public to identify special places and how they would like to see them managed. By doing this managers can gain acceptance for new programs.



© Copyright 2006 Eric Paul Turbeville