Economics of Wildland Fire

Science Center Objects

In recent decades, wildfires have increased in size and intensity, and the fire season has lengthened. This and other factors have increased wildfire suppression costs and risks to human health and safety. SEA economists investigate numerous aspects of wildland fire, its impacts, and how to mitigate the risk wildfire poses to people, resources, and property.

Specifically, SEA and their partners contribute to the following:

  • Wildfire risk mitigation refers to actions taken before a fire to reduce the potential negative effects to people and property. The Wildfire Research Team analyzes community-specific social and risk assessment data to learn how residents of the wildland-urban interface (WUI) understand and interact with their wildfire risk.

  • Landscape-level fuel treatments can reduce fuel loads and decrease the likelihood of extreme or catastrophic fire behavior. They also can support source water protection, maintain recreational access to wildland areas, and provide ecological benefits. As part of the Sustaining Environmental Capital Initiative (SECI), SEA is investigating the public’s preferences for these different outcomes to provide information on benefits and tradeoffs for managers selecting locations for landscape-level fuel treatments in northern New Mexico.

  • Large, high-intensity wildland fire can damage natural resources and lead to the loss of ecosystem services (e.g. wildlife habitat, watershed conditions, recreational and aesthetic value); however, calculating these damages is complex and could be conducted in multiple ways. SEA is investigating approaches to estimate the value of these damages for large fires in sagebrush ecosystems. This effort supports the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) efforts towards cost recovery and deterrence against future trespass fires, i.e. the occurrence of unauthorized fire as a result of human negligence or intent.

  • To protect against further resource damage, some large fires require post-fire treatments such as seeding, hazard tree removal, and stream re-vegetation. As part of broader efforts to understand Economic Impacts of Ecological Restoration, SEA economists study how the spending on post-fire treatments in the Western U.S. supports local jobs and business activities.

  • Buffelgrass is an invasive grass that affects multiple habitats, creating novel fire risk and transforming natural ecosystems. SEA economists collaborate with the Invasive Species Branch and Colorado State University to develop state-and-transition models to improve the efficiency of managing this novel source of fire risk.