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Michael Hand

Michael in Glacier National Park

Research Economist

800 East Beckwith
Missoula, MT 59801
Contact Michael Hand

Current Research

My current research focuses on how people and communities derive benefits and value from publically managed natural resources, and how public agencies allocate resources to manage the flow of ecosystem goods and services provided by public lands. This work is intended to provide guidance to managers on cost-effective ways to manage lands for multiple benefits, inform policy discussions about the economics of public lands management, and contribute to scientific advances in natural resource economics and public lands management fields.

Assessing the roles of forest ecosystem goods and services in sustaining well-being for households and communities
How do ecological changes affect the well-being of people who rely on forest ecosystem services? How do people make tradeoffs to access ecosystem services provided by public forests and adapt to changes in forest ecosystem services? This research area explores how people make economic decisions to access and derive benefits from ecosystem goods and services provided by publically managed forests. It seeks to better understand the socio-economic tradeoffs associated with natural resource management activities and how ecological changes will affect people who derive benefits from public lands.

Ongoing projects include:
  • Assessments of socio-economic vulnerability to ecological changes to National Forests in the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Pacific Southwest.
  • Examining the potential effects of climate change on the demand for National Forest recreation.
  • The role of National Forests in the Southwest region as an amenity in housing and labor markets.

The economics of wildfire management by public land management agencies
This research area investigates how public agencies allocate resources, make tradeoffs, and make decisions to manage risk and uncertainty when managing wildland fires. The goal of this research is to provide decision makers with information that can improve the cost effectiveness of wildfire management activities and aid in understanding how management decisions affect wildfire outcomes.

Ongoing projects include:
  • Examining spatial and temporal factors associated with wildfire management expenditures.
  • Empirical analysis of the effectiveness of suppression efforts for wildfire initial attack and large wildfire management.
  • Understanding risk perceptions and responses as factors in wildfire management decision making.

Research Interests

My broad research interests explore the intersection of the natural world with household economic activity and decisions, the role of natural landscapes in providing market and non-market benefits to households and communities, and the economics of managing forest disturbances (such as wildland fire) to maintain ecological values. These topics look at how households make economic decisions in relation to forests and other natural features, and how public managers allocate resources to achieve multiple land management objectives.

Why This Research is Important

Understanding how people behave and make economic decisions is a key element of management of public lands. People have varied demands for the goods and services provided by the nation's forests, make economic tradeoffs to access them, and adapt to ecological and management changes to improve well-being. Using economics and an understanding of human behavior and decision making can help managers anticipate how decisions affect people and communities, and can aid in the deisgn of programs and policies meant to sustain benefits provided by public lands for current and future generations of people.


  • University of New Mexico, Ph.D., Economics, 2007
  • University of New Mexico, M.S., Economics, 2005
  • University of Minnesota, B.S., Human Resources and Industrial Relations, 2000
  • Professional Experience

    Research Economist, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    2011 to present

    Research Economist, USDA, Economic Research Service, Rural and Resource Economics Division
    2007 to 2011

    Professional Organizations

    • White House Social And Behavioral Sciences Team, Fellow ( 2015 to present )
      Translate findings from behavioral science fields to improve the benefits derived from Federal programs. Design and implement field trials of behaviorally informed interventions to Federal programs, with a focus on energy, environment, and natural resources applications.


    Hand, Michael; Roman, Lara A.; Locke, Dexter Henry; Fichman, Erica Smith, 2019. Phone-call reminders narrow the intention-action gap by increasing follow-through for a residential tree giveaway program
    Hand, Michael; Smith, Jordan W.; Peterson, David L.; Brunswick, Nancy A.; Brown, Carol P., 2018. Effects of climate change on outdoor recreation [Chapter 10]
    Hand, Michael; Eichman, Henry; Triepke, F. Jack; Jaworski, Delilah, 2018. Socioeconomic vulnerability to ecological changes to national forests and grasslands in the Southwest
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Lauer, Christopher J.; Calkin, Dave E.; Rieck, Jon; Stonesifer, Crystal S.; Hand, Michael, 2018. Wildfire response performance measurement: Current and future directions
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Silva, Francisco Rodriguez y; Calkin, Dave E.; Hand, Michael, 2017. A review of challenges to determining and demonstrating efficiency of large fire management
    Hand, Michael; Katuwal, Hari; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2017. The influence of incident management teams on the deployment of wildfire suppression resources
    Izon, German M.; Hand, Michael; Mccollum, Daniel W.; Thacher, Jennifer A.; Berrens, Robert P., 2016. Proximity to natural amenities: A seemingly unrelated hedonic regression model with spatial durbin and spatial error processes
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Freeborn, Patrick; Rieck, Jon; Calkin, Dave E.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Cochrane, Mark A.; Hand, Michael, 2016. Quantifying the influence of previously burned areas on suppression effectiveness and avoided exposure: A case study of the Las Conchas Fire
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Haas, Jessica R.; Finney, Mark A.; Calkin, Dave E.; Hand, Michael; Browne, Mark J.; Halek, Martin; Short, Karen C.; Grenfell, Isaac C., 2015. Development and application of a probabilistic method for wildfire suppression cost modeling
    Jin, Yufang; Goulden, Michael L.; Faivre, Nicolas; Veraverbeke, Sander; Sun, Fengpeng; Hall, Alex; Hand, Michael; Hook, Simon; Randerson, James T., 2015. Identification of two distinct fire regimes in Southern California: implications for economic impact and future change
    Hand, Michael; Wibbenmeyer, Matthew J.; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2015. Risk preferences, probability weighting, and strategy tradeoffs in wildfire management
    Hand, Michael; Gebert, Krista M.; Liang, Jingjing; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Zhou, Mo, 2014. Economics of wildfire management: The development and application of suppression expenditure models
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Finney, Mark A.; Gebert, Krista M.; Hand, Michael, 2013. A risk-based approach to wildland fire budgetary planning
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Hand, Michael; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Vaillant, Nicole M.; Nalle, Darek J., 2013. Hazardous fuel treatments, suppression cost impacts, and risk mitigation
    Wibbenmeyer, Matthew J.; Hand, Michael; Calkin, Dave E.; Venn, Tyron J.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2013. Risk preferences in strategic wildfire decision making: A choice experiment with U.S. wildfire managers
    Wallander, Steven; Aillery, Marcel; Hellerstein, Daniel; Hand, Michael, 2013. The role of conservation programs in drought risk adaptation
    Izon, German N.; Hand, Michael; Fontenla, Matias; Berrens, Robert P., 2010. The economic value of protecting Inventoried Roadless Areas: A spatial hedonic price study in New Mexico
    Hand, Michael; Thacher, Jennifer A.; McCollum, Daniel R.; Berrens, Robert P., 2008. Forest amenities and location choice in the Southwest
    Hand, Michael; Thacher, Jennifer A.; McCollum, Daniel W.; Berrens, Robert P., 2008. Intra-regional amenities, wages, and home prices: The role of forests in the Southwest
    Each year thousands of wildfires occur within the United States. Increased federal spending on large wildfire management has become a growing concern to Congress, to state and federal agencies, and to the public. The Wildfire Risk Management Team is undertaking a series of empirical studies from recent wildfires that track daily resource use, including aviation and ground-based fire suppression resources, to asses the effects of resource use on wildfire containment under a range of environmental conditions.
    The Wildfire Risk Management Team is developing and applying empirically driven models of firefighting resource effectiveness considering resource type, mission objective, and incident characteristics to improve the efficiency of wildfire management. The team surveyed federal fire managers, operations personnel, and line officers responsible for ordering suppression resources to characterize ordering patterns and perceptions related to resource importance, scarcity, and substitutability. With this survey, researchers explore how the results affect tradeoff analyses, operational efficiency, and risk management practices in federal fire management.
    The cost and cost effectiveness of wildfire suppression efforts have recently been scrutinized due to increased suppression expenditures in the United States. This scrutiny has resulted in increased pressure to balance the costs, benefits, and risks of wildland fire management. The Wildfire Risk Management Team is using econometric modeling to empirically examine various aspects of wildland fire management expenditures such as identifying and examining factors related to suppression expenditures, and analyzing trends to better forecast suppression expenditures.
    In 2015, the cost of large fire management expenditures exceeded the allocated budget by over $700 million USD. Despite the scale of investment, little is known about how suppression resources affect large fire containment, and there remains considerable variation among fires in their relative costs. The Wildfire Risk Management Team is exploring economic issues related to cost and effectiveness of using suppression resources to manage wildland fires.
    The Wildfire Risk Management Team is an interdisciplinary team that explores wildfire management through the lenses of risk analysis, economics, decision science, and landscape ecology to improve the scientific basis for the full range of wildfire management decisions. Primary research topics include integrated spatial risk assessment modeling and planning, econometric modeling of fire management expenditures, effectiveness of suppression resource utilization, organizational structure and managerial incentive systems, and performance measurement.