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EarthLab and Population Health co-fund pilot grant to improve communication around smoke exposure in rural and Tribal communities

EarthLab and the Population Health Initiative have announced a new pilot research grant award to study how Tribal and non-Tribal communities in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area (ORAEA) receive and communicate information about smoke exposure.

Due to climate change, wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity across the western United States. While land managers have increasingly been proactive in “fighting fire with fire,” i.e., using prescribed fires to prevent severe wildfires, this means that people in Tribal and rural areas will be exposed to smoke outside of the traditional fire season. Therefore, this project aims to address this with effective risk communication for the potentially affected populations.

EarthLab is proud to co-fund this project with Population Health, a new center at UW that addresses the challenges that arise at the intersection of human health, environmental resilience and social and economic equity. The EarthLab Innovation Grants Program invests in interdisciplinary and community-led projects that develop innovative solutions and strategies to pressing environmental challenges. The 2021-2022 Request for Proposal (RFP) will be announced later this year.

About the Project

Project Title
Characterizing Risk Communication Around Smoke Exposure in Rural and Tribal Communities in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area

Investigators
Ernesto Alvarado, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Savannah D’Evelyn, Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (postdoctoral scholar)
Nicole Errett, Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences
Cody Desautel, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

Project abstract
Wildfires across the western United States are increasing in frequency and severity. To lessen the negative impacts of high severity wildfires on both human and forest health, fuel management strategies such as prescribed fires (Rx fires) are being utilized. Use of Rx fires results in less severe wildfires and thus less severe smoke events. However, managing fire with fire increases the frequency of smoke exposure in rural communities outside of fire season.

To address this balance, we must start with effective risk communication for potentially affected populations. The goal of this project is to describe how tribal and non-tribal communities in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area (ORAEA) receive and communicate information about smoke exposure.

Through key informant interviews and focus groups, we aim to identify the community and cultural perceptions of smoke exposure and describe its impact on the community. We will partner with representatives from the Natural Resource Division for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CNRD), the Colville Environmental Trust Air Quality Program (CETAQP), and Washington Prescribed Fire Council (WPFC) to reach communities on and off the Colville reservation.

By working with these partners, we will describe perceived risk of smoke exposure, improve real-time culturally responsive risk communication, as well as advance and evaluate each community’s outreach goals. This work will set the stage for new and continued community-academic partnerships to develop effective and relevant resources and risk communication to enhance the resilience to, and reduce the disproportionate health risks of, smoke exposure.

View the full slate of Population Health 2021 pilot research grants here