Mesoamerica’s tropical dry forest is one of the regions most threatened ecosystems, and it is also home to more than 70% of the regions human population. The cultural perceptions, knowledge systems, and practices surrounding fire use were evaluated in mestizo settlements within the Chococente Wildlife Refuge, Nicaragua. Research methods included 105 household surveys, ethnographic interviews, and participant observation during 5 agricultural burns.
Fire is a tool for the majority of subsistence activities, including cooking, hunting, and agriculture. Farmers perceive many advantages to burning, such as saving labor and increasing fertility. They also demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of forest ecology and the effects of varied fire-return intervals. Communities share belief systems and rules regarding timing of burns and fire application. Overall, results demonstrate that fire is culturally valued and frequently used in rural subsistence. It is likely that wildfires will be a recurrent disturbance in the dry forest region without strong cultural and socio-economic changes. Reducing wildfire frequency should focus on training local people in fire safety and more conservative burning techniques. Fire use should only be completely discouraged when alternative tools are made available.