06-18-19 USDA-RMRS-Ft Collins: New research quantifies future wildfire impacts to communities in the Western United States

USDA-RMRS-Ft Collins: New research quantifies future wildfire impacts to communities in the Western United States

FORT COLLINS, Colo., June 18, 2019 – The Forest Service has developed a new cross-boundary assessment tool that maps 240 million acres where significant wildfire ignitions can potentially impact over 1,800 Western communities. This new framework is described in the report Cross-boundary Wildfire and Community Exposure Assessment (RMRS-General Technical Report-392)which was recently released by the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and Oregon State University.

Expanding the scale of forest and fuel management activities is one of the primary motivations of the USDA Shared Stewardship strategy. New legislation, such as the updated Good Neighbor Authority, expedites Forest Service planning for cross-boundary forest and fuels management. This new assessment tool can help land managers see where to apply these legislative authorities strategically to address wildfire issues by identifying where cross-boundary and community fire exposure can be reduced through forest and fuel management.

In this example of a cross-boundary fire, an ignition on a national forest (red dot at right) spreads to adjacent landowners and into a community where structures are exposed to the fire.

The publication also shows the potential for cross-boundary fires and analyzes how the geography of land ownership contributes to cross-boundary fire events. Mapping the origins of potentially large, catastrophic fires is an important step to understanding how to reduce future wildfire losses. This assessment and related Forest Service studies are important tools for co-prioritizing investments in forest and fuels management with state, local, and other federal partners as a means to expand the footprint of fuels reduction projects.

“A key part of risk assessment is the explicit identification, or mapping, of the source of risk to communities,” said Alan Ager, a USDA Forest Service Research Forester and lead author of the study. “For instance, mitigation programs for other natural- and human-caused hazards, such as water and air pollution, examine source and transport vectors, which helps inform the design of effective mitigation programs.”

Ager said that studies in risk science have shown that if the geographic scale of risk is not explicitly factored into mitigation programs, risk reduction goals are difficult to achieve. The results complement other ongoing risk assessments conducted by the agency by specifically focusing on cross-boundary events and measuring the scale of risk to communities.

View the Science Spotlight featuring this work here.

Related Publications

Ager, Alan ; Day, Michelle A. ; Palaiologou, Palaiologos ; Houtman, Rachel M. ; Ringo, Chris ; Evers, Cody R. , 2019

The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development. RMRS maintains 14 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale. To find out more about the RMRS go to www.fs.fed.us/rmrs. You can also follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/usfs_rmrs.