Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

How Can Social Marketing Help Reduce Wildfires?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Nancy R. Lee
August 11, 2023

Imagine a world in which citizens eagerly adopt behaviors that public sector managers advocate for to improve public health, prevent injuries, protect the environment and engage communities. This is a world that Social Marketing can help to create. This is my second column highlighting Social Marketing, a proven discipline to influence citizen behaviors for social good.

The “wicked problem” that I am discussing this month is Wildfires. I’ll begin with a few facts that inform and inspire applicable Social Marketing strategies, the first two below from the Annual 2022 Wildfires Report | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) (noaa.gov):

  • Annually, more than 7 million acres of land in the United States are destroyed by wildfires (2001-2020).
  • More than 66 thousand fires contributed each year to these wildfire damages (2001-2020).
  • Nearly 85 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by hazardous human behaviors (National Park Services, 2022).

Further, a scientific study published in 2020 highlighted that human-caused wildfires are more destructive than those caused by nature as they burn faster and kill more trees than slower ones such as those caused by lightning (Science, 2020, T. Joosse).   

An American Red Cross website on How to Prevent Wildfires provides several examples of areas of focus and specific behaviors that would help prevent human-caused wildfires:

  • Campfires and Bonfires (e.g. use designated fire pits and never leave unattended)
  • Yardwaste or Rubbish Burns (e.g. don’t burn yard waste or rubbish unless it’s allowed by your municipality, and if allowed, burn in a drum or fire pit)
  • Smoking (e.g. dispose of used matches and butts in a closed container or cup of water)
  • Fireworks (e.g. have a bucket of water, garden hose or fire extinguisher handy)
  • Cars, Tools & Other Combustion Engines (e.g. don’t park a hot car or other machine in dry grass) Community Efforts (e.g. manage vegetation)

The following examples of a Social Marketing approach to reducing human-caused wildfires feature two protective behaviors: one related to safe use of tools, that of barbecue grilling; and one, a community based effort, stopping the spread of wildfires using home protective behaviors.

Smokey Bear: Only You Can Prevent Wildfires

In March of 2021, ahead of outdoor recreation season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council launched a new PSA for Smokey Bear’s Wildfire Prevention campaign. From the beginning, this effort has focused on influencing Americans to prevent unwanted human caused wildfires by adopting responsible behaviors.

Of interest for Social Marketers, related to this example, is the application of a core principle to emphasize a single, doable behavior—one that will have an impact.

The new PSA focused on Americans who were “firing up their grills” outdoors, and featured the voice of a popular actress Isabella Gomess stressing to not dump hot barbecue coals or ashes on the ground as they can start wildfires. The animated video ran nationwide and was available in an online Smokey Bear toolkit.

Smokey Bear’s website also highlights their One Less Spark Campaign that focuses on specific preventive behaviors. One of the gold award winning efforts featured was credited with helping to reduce fire starts across Idaho by 80 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Wildfire Ready Neighbors

In 2021, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) launched a pilot program branded Wildfire Ready Neighbors with a focus on building community resiliency to wildfires.

The pilot was launched in three counties at high risk for wildfires and began with an offer to sign up to be a member of the Wildfire Ready Neighbors program. Applicants would then receive a free Wildlife Ready Plan to identify recommended activities to make their home more wildfire resilient (e.g. clear brush near home). Next steps included home visits to support activities identified in their plan. At the community level, additional incentives included resources to support activities to become more wildfire ready such as free chippers for community clean-up days.

DNR enlisted neighborhood captains to encourage sign ups, and the program was promoted through direct mail, paid advertising and earned media outreach. Participation levels were shared on the website through a goal thermometer that tracked individual sign-up.

Outcomes from the pilot included: (Lee/Kotler/Colehour: Social Marketing 7th Edition)

  • 30,000 tailored plans distributed with concrete steps for property preparedness
  • 1138 home visit requests
  • 27,000+ wildfire preparedness actions were committed by residents

Source: C+C, A Communications Agency All About the Good

In future columns in September, October, November and December, I will share Social Marketing strategies to address other current major “wicked problems” in the United States including youth suicide, homelessness, carbon emissions and fentanyl overdoses.

Author: Nancy R. Lee is an affiliate instructor at the University of Washington where she teaches courses in social marketing; a professional certificate course instructor for the International Social Marketing Association; president of Social Marketing Services, Inc.; a strategic advisor for C+C; and a coauthor of 13 books on social marketing with Philip Kotler. Email: [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *