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Risk Analysis Prioritizes Investments in Hazardous Fuels Reduction

A spatial, quantitative wildfire risk assessment framework based on characterizing exposure of highly valued resources and assets to risk factors, as well as their response to varying levels of exposure. Forest ServiceSnapshot : Scientists mitigate the adverse impacts of wildland fires

Principal Investigators(s) :
Thompson, Matthew P.  
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2012
Highlight ID : 127


Wildfires can result in significant and adverse consequences to human health and safety, property, water quality, and to natural and cultural resources. The recent severe wildfire activity in Colorado and other Western States cements the saliency of these potential impacts and naturally leads to questions of how to best reduce wildfire risk. One of the primary ways land managers can mitigate the adverse impacts of wildland fires is by reducing hazardous fuel levels. Managers need methods to prioritize limited funding and resources for fuel treatments that need to be placed wisely on the landscape to cost effectively achieve management goals. Forest Service scientists developed useful information to prioritize investments in hazardous fuels reduction across forests throughout the region.

The scientists led a series of workshops to identify the most important resources and assets that could potentially be impacted by wildfire. Coupled with estimates made for wildfire likelihood and intensity, scientists integrated this information into a wildfire risk-assessment framework to describe the variability in likely fire-related benefit and loss scenarios across the landscape. Scientists summarized results from the risk analysis for each ranger district and forest within the Rocky Mountain Region, with additional risk summarization for geographic areas where different types of fuel treatments are suitable.

To streamline this process and help land managers assess risks on the lands they manage, the scientists developed a geospatial risk calculation toolbox. The toolbox is seamlessly integrated into a geographic information system, or GIS, known as the Esri ArcGIS environment, which is familiar to many resource managers and Forest Service GIS analysts. It would be ideal for this integration to lead to healthier landscapes, reduced losses and impacts to human communities, and reduced fire suppression costs for large fires.

The risk-assessment methods applied in the analysis are consistent with the scientific underpinnings of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and build off of existing risk-based tools, such as the Wildland Fire Decision Support System. The scientists helped implement the risk-assessment framework for a multitude of national forests throughout the Northern and Rocky Mountain Regions.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • National Fire Decision Support Center
  • Pike and San Isabel National Forest
  • Western Wildlands Environmental Threat Assessment Center