WWETAC Projects

Project Title: Interaction of private and public forest fire risk management decisions

Principal Investigators: Gwenlyn M. Busby, Heidi J. Albers, and Claire A. Montgomery, College of Forestry, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR


Key Issues/Problems Addressed:

Wildfires burn millions of acres across the U.S. annually, with values at risk increasing as human populations grow in high hazard areas, and cost public agencies millions of dollars. An understanding of the interactions between public investment in wildland fuel reduction projects and private landowner decision-making is critical to improving fire risk management across mixed ownership landscapes, known as the wildland-urban interface (WUI).

Setting and Approach:

This study used a spatially explicit, dynamic game theory model to examine how public land management agencies' investment in fuel management influences and is influenced by decisions made by private landowners. The two primary questions evaluated were: (1) What are the best policies to address wildfire risk in the WUI and protect public values outside the WUI, and (2) How does spatial configuration and location affect the timing and amount of fuel treatment on a landscape with mixed ownership?  Public and private decision dynamics were explored over a range of resource values and land ownership configurations across a landscape.

Key Findings:

  • Land ownership fragmentation decreases the efficiency of fire risk management.
  • Efforts made towards fire risk management depend on landowners’ budgets, the assignment of liability, and the values at risk both in and outside the WUI. As these parameters vary, interaction between public management and private landowners will vary.
  • When public agency liability for fire protection is high, private landowners are more likely to spend as little as possible on fuel treatment.
  • When public resources are focused in areas with mixed public and private ownership, local residents capture the benefits and less public resources are available to society at large.
  • The outcome of strategic interaction in the WUI affects the ability of public agencies to protect values outside the WUI due to public budget constraints.
  • Fuel stock regulation, which limits the amount of fuels that may accumulate on an individual parcel, appears to have the greatest potential to improve the efficiency of fire risk management on a landscape with mixed ownership.


The analytical framework developed in this study may be used to gain insight into the nature of the strategic interaction between public agencies and private landowners when making fire risk management decisions.  The study describes to policy-makers the types of settings where public fire management in the WUI leads to similar efforts by private landowners and settings where it leads to underinvestment in fire risk management by private landowners.


Busby, G.M., and H.J. Albers. 2010 Wildfire risk management on a landscape with public and private ownership: Who pays for rotection?  Environmental Management 45:296-310. (PDF, 543 KB)

WWETAC Project ID: FY06TS10