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Spatiotemporal Evaluation of Fuel Treatment and Previous Wildfire Effects on Suppression Costs - Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program

Author(s): Helen T. Naughton, Kevin M. Barnett
Year Published: 2017

This project quantifies the effects of fuel treatments and previously burned areas on daily fire management costs, as well as summarizes recent encounter rates between fuel treatments and wildland fires across the conterminous United States. Using national-scale, spatially explicit data on recent fuel treatments and wildland fires, we quantified the frequency, extent, and geographic variation of encounters between fuel treatments and wildland fires on federal lands. These data were used to identify fires that burned into previous fuel treatments or burned areas. Panel regression analysis estimates daily fire management costs for 56 such fires between 2008 and 2012 as a function of a suite of spatial variables that characterized the fire environment (e.g., weather, topography, and human populations-at-risk). Results from the regression analysis suggest that days when a fire encounters a fuel treatment or burned area are, on average, positively associated with fire management costs, likely revealing the use of previously treated and burned areas to facilitate suppression operations. These effects, however, are not uniform across regions and landscape contexts.

Contrary to our findings, the proposal for this project hypothesized that encounters with fuel treatments and previous burns would reduce fire management costs. As such, our initial objectives were predicated on that expectation. The study objectives were to determine the specific sources of these reductions in costs as well as estimating the tradeoffs between fuel treatment costs and suppression costs. The objectives were only partially met because our data request to the USFS National Incident Management Organization’s I-Suite application was only partially fulfilled and because of the contrary findings of increased fire management costs as fires enter fuel treatments and previous burns. To overcome the obstacle of inaccessible fire cost data, we explored expanding our cost dataset with model-predicted cost using a data matching exercise between I-Suite costs and ROSS resource use categories. While there may be some merit to that exercise, given our limited set of I-Suite data we deemed it to be a tenuous source for expanding the data.

This study focused on evaluating daily costs, rather than total fire costs. Unexpectedly, we found that encounters with fuel treatments and previous fires increase daily fire management costs. Managers working in the field validated the concept suggesting that fuel treatments and previous fires are often areas where suppression efforts are applied in greater force. Future research could determine if these suppression efforts are successful at stopping fires and reducing total fire costs.

Citation: Naughton, Helen T.; Barnett, Kevin M. 2017. Spatiotemporal evaluation of fuel treatment and previous wildfire effects on suppression costs.Joint Fire Science Project 14-5-01-25. Missoula, MT: University of Montana. 34 p.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Fire & Economics, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Technical Report or White Paper
NRFSN number: 16999
FRAMES RCS number: 25050
Record updated: Jul 5, 2018