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Uncertainty and risk in wildland fire management: a review

Author(s): Matthew P. Thompson, David E. Calkin
Year Published: 2011

Wildland fire management is subject to manifold sources of uncertainty. Beyond the unpredictability of wildfire behavior, uncertainty stems from inaccurate/missing data, limited resource value measures to guide prioritization across fires and resources at risk, and an incomplete scientific understanding of ecological response to fire, of fire behavior response to treatments, and of spatiotemporal dynamics involving disturbance regimes and climate change. This work attempts to systematically align sources of uncertainty with the most appropriate decision support methodologies, in order to facilitate cost-effective, risk-based wildfire planning efforts. We review the state of wildfire risk assessment and management, with a specific focus on uncertainties challenging implementation of integrated risk assessments that consider a suite of human and ecological values. Recent advances in wildfire simulation and geospatial mapping of highly valued resources have enabled robust risk-based analyses to inform planning across a variety of scales, although improvements are needed in fire behavior and ignition occurrence models. A key remaining challenge is a better characterization of non-market resources at risk, both in terms of their response to fire and how society values those resources. Our findings echo earlier literature identifying wildfire effects analysis and value uncertainty as the primary challenges to integrated wildfire risk assessment and wildfire management. We stress the importance of identifying and characterizing uncertainties in order to better quantify and manage them. Leveraging the most appropriate decision support tools can facilitate wildfire risk assessment and ideally improve decision-making.

Citation: Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, David E. 2011. Uncertainty and risk in wildland fire management: a review. Journal of Environmental Management. 92(8): 1895-1909.
Topic(s): Risk, Strategic Risk
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article, Synthesis
NRFSN number: 12431
FRAMES RCS number: 15974
Record updated: Jun 26, 2018