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Jeffrey G. Borchers
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Strategic Risk

NRFSN number: 12711
FRAMES RCS number: 10223
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The risks, uncertainties, and social conflicts surrounding uncharacteristic wildfire and forest resource values have defied conventional approaches to planning and decision-making. Paradoxically, the adoption of technological innovations such as risk assessment, decision analysis, and landscape simulation models by land management organizations has been limited. The infusion of a technological innovation into organizations is determined largely by a trade-off between its compatibility with existing values, past experiences and needs, and the relative advantage of the innovation over that which it replaces. For instance, while the methods and tools of risk assessment offer numerous advantages to managers, they may be largely incompatible with an undue desire for certainty that imbues the culture of their organizations. This, coupled with a complementary desire on the part of scientists to provide certainty, defines the traditional relationship between management and research. The efficacy of this relationship is challenged by the law of conservation of risk. This law suggests that much of the uncertainty and risk associated with managing ecosystems cannot be eliminated; it can only be transferred. In this systems, or 'marketplace' view of risk, the demand for certainty by managers and policymakers may exceed the supply provided by science, particularly in conflicted-ridden resource problems. As a remedy, it has been suggested that managers renounce their desire for certainty and 'embrace' uncertainty. This can be accomplished with a strategic focus on decision quality that would accommodate even the large uncertainties associated with uncharacteristic wildfires, restoration activities, and sensitive species. Decision quality is defined as the outgrowth of a distinct decision science imbued with organizing principles, ethics, laws, or quantitative relationships that facilitate consistency with values, objectives, belief systems, and empirical evidence. While quality in ecological risk management can be improved by acquiring new technologies, the decision to acquire new technologies is itself a risky decision. Hence, ecological risks and organizational risks should be managed and assessed as part of a larger framework that consider the risk 'marketplace' while addressing the challenge of 'deciding how to decide'.


Borchers, Jeffrey G. 2005. Accepting uncertainty, assessing risk: decision quality in managing wildfire, forest resource values, and new technology. Forest Ecology and Management 211(1-2): 36-46.

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