Risk of forest fires north of the Alps: Awareness and communication

A forest fire in the canton of Bern
A forest fire in the canton of Bern. Photo: Forestry and Natural Hazards Office

As the climate warms, the risks of human-induced forest fires are increasing on the northern side of the Alps – whether due to leisure activities like outdoor barbecues or due to fires for burning tree and plant cuttings in agriculture and forestry. Meanwhile, because there have been very few major fires to date, local people lack an established “culture” for dealing with forest and field fires. This situation increasingly calls for targeted prevention through awareness-raising and communication.

Goals and concrete benefits

The current project takes up this challenge. Its goal is to identify the risk awareness and behaviour of different actors in the canton of Bern and, accordingly, to determine concrete approaches for group-specific communication. Based on scientific findings, the project aims to develop optimized and/or new communication strategies and materials for implementation. These can promote behavioural changes regarding forest fire risks, thus helping to prevent such fires.

The project results can also contribute to suitable communication strategies for other natural hazards. Moreover, they can be of use to other cantons north of the Alps.

fire ban warning sign
Fire ban: Warning sign of the Canton of Bern posted at a forest entrance. Photo: Forestry and Natural Hazards Office

Target groups and focus regions

The project’s target groups are all users of forests in the canton of Bern, including agriculture and forestry, but especially the general population that uses the forest for leisure activities. The intention is to sensitize users to the dangers of forest fires north of the Alps, such that they can correctly interpret and properly react to corresponding risk reports.

The project focuses on known hotspots of forest fire risk in the canton of Bern: the foot of the southern Jura range and the southern slopes in the Bernese Oberland.

Project implementation and cooperation

The project is being implemented as a module within the project “Forest Fire Risk on the Northern Side of the Alps” of the Wyss Academy for Nature at the University of Bern, in close cooperation with the Forestry and Natural Hazards Office of the Canton of Bern. Key implementation actors will be integrated in the project to ensure that the scientific results are useful in practice.

The project encompasses four work packages (WP):

Other modules on “Forest Fire Management on the Northern Side of the Alps” deal with forest characteristics as well as the impact of forest governance, risk assessment, and risk classifications that consider the parameters of weather, soil, topography, forest composition, and forest use. These modules are affiliated with other institutes and organizations.

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Photo: CDE

Forest fire prevention: Awareness and communication increasingly important

August 2022. Forest fire risk is an issue that Switzerland must address more vigorously now and in the future. A related research project is investigating how different stakeholders in the canton of Bern perceive the risk of forest fires and how they act in addressing fires in or near forests. The work of the researchers is accompanied by a practice committee including participants from forestry and agriculture, municipalities, cantonal authorities, fire departments, and more. At the first committee meeting, the emphasis was on exchanging experiences regarding risk behaviour, as well questions of how to approach communication and awareness raising in order to achieve the widest possible impact.