Changing the Conversation About Wildfire in California

July 31, 2012

Throughout the country, longer hotter summers due to climate change are creating prime conditions for larger and more frequent wildfires. While fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, rural residents, and in turn the media, often blame environmental protections for opening the door to uncontrollable wildfires.

For nearly ten years, Resource Media has worked with partners throughout California and the West to reframe wildfire as part of our natural environment, and to develop new messages and messengers to speak to the consequences of wildfire in relationship to development on the edge of unpopulated wild lands.

Over time, the message of limiting development near fire-prone areas has taken hold, and has been reflected in media coverage – both in story frame and spokespeople. Scientists, community representatives, and state and federal lawmakers are speaking out in favor of smarter planning in areas at risk from wildfire. Many have taken a page straight from our message book, saying that as populations boom along the perimeters of wild lands, local communities need to tighten building codes and keep development from pushing into places where fire is a natural occurrence.


  •  Message Development: Rather than reiterating environmental arguments, we steered the conversation toward the concept that fire is a necessary part of nature. While we can’t control the wind or the weather, we can control where we build new homes. We were careful not to blame homeowners, but encouraged policymakers to plan for wildfires like they plan for earthquakes or floods. We asked local governments to provide leadership in zoning and planning to help keep homes and firefighters out of harms way and firefighting costs in check.
  • Messenger Development: Resource Media established long-term relationships with leading fire scientists, land use experts and community groups to speak to reporters about the benefits of wildfire to the landscape, and the responsibility of decision makers to plan wisely. These experts were on call and were quick to respond to reporter inquiries, resulting in more balanced coverage in the aftermath of a wildfire.


In the regions where Resource Media concentrated our work, media coverage has noticeably shifted to include the natural occurrence and benefit of fire on the landscape. More importantly, California has enacted statewide laws aimed at reducing wildfire hazards in high-risk areas, including preventative land use planning.