Informal Governance and Disaster Planning: The Case of Wildfire

36 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2018

See all articles by Stephen R. Miller

Stephen R. Miller

University of Idaho College of Law - Boise

Jaap Vos

University of Idaho

Eric Lindquist

Boise State University

Date Written: December 3, 2018


This article provides both basic structure for engaging wildfire planning in WUI communities while arguing for the importance of utilizing informal governance structures in disaster planning. This is especially true in the smaller rural communities that often still predominate at the edge of urban areas. In such rural communities, informal governance structures can often have a significant role to play in whether disaster planning is successful, often more so than the formalized legal codes of the local government.

The article briefly describes the crisis of wildfire in the WUI as development, especially in the West, encroaches further into wildlands and wilderness. The article then summarizes a traditional WUI wildfire planning process, which the authors have previously presented in greater depth in other articles. The bulk of the article, however, seeks to investigate and propose another layer of engagement: the informal governance structures of rural communities. The article does this by illustrating how informal governance structures can provide the missing link in disaster planning for rural communities. Local government in local communities can, in many cases, appear to have all the trappings of traditional large-scale government apparatuses. However, upon closer investigation, these rural local governments often struggle for relevance. In some cases, their planning and building codes are not enforced, judicial resources can be scarce for enforcement of civil matters, training of planning staff and commissioners is often non-existent. Codes in rural communities are often boilerplate and not tailored to local communities, and emergency response equipment is often a shell of what would be expected in an urban environment.

The importance of these observations is not to diminish the governmental efforts of rural communities; rather, they illustrate the complicated mechanisms of local government that are challenging for small and resource-strapped locales to implement. Further, this section seeks to use sociological research to explore how rural communities can utilize informal governance structures in place of, and in support of, formalized local government. The article encourages agencies engaging in disaster planning to find ways to quickly evaluate and engage informal governance structures in rural communities. One approach would be to adopt something like the participatory rural assessment (PRA) technique for evaluating informal governance structures in developing countries. The article then returns to the importance of formal local government, even for those communities that culturally prefer informal local governance structures. Codes unattended can become weapons of development projects the community does not want, which can be problematic for disaster planning generally, and especially in the case of wildfire.

Suggested Citation

Miller, Stephen R. and Vos, Jaap and Lindquist, Eric, Informal Governance and Disaster Planning: The Case of Wildfire (December 3, 2018). University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Stephen R. Miller (Contact Author)

University of Idaho College of Law - Boise ( email )

514 W. Jefferson St
Boise, ID 83702
United States
208-364-4559 (Phone)
208-344-2176 (Fax)

Jaap Vos

University of Idaho ( email )

875 Perimeter Drive
Moscow, ID 83844
United States

Eric Lindquist

Boise State University ( email )

No Address Available

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