Integrated wildfire risk assessment: Framework development and application on the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, USA



The financial, socioeconomic, and ecological impacts of wildfire continue to challenge federal land management agencies in the United States. In recent years, policymakers and managers have increasingly turned to the field of risk analysis to better manage wildfires and to mitigate losses to highly valued resources and assets (HVRAs). Assessing wildfire risk entails the interaction of multiple components, including integrating wildfire simulation outputs with geospatial identification of HVRAs and the characterization of fire effects to HVRAs. We present an integrated and systematic risk assessment framework that entails 3 primary analytical components: 1) stochastic wildfire simulation and burn probability modeling to characterize wildfire hazard, 2) expert-based modeling to characterize fire effects, and 3) multicriteria decision analysis to characterize preference structures across at-risk HVRAs. We demonstrate application of this framework for a wildfire risk assessment performed on the Little Belts Assessment Area within the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, United States. We devote particular attention to our approach to eliciting and encapsulating expert judgment, in which we: 1) adhered to a structured process for using expert judgment in ecological risk assessment, 2) used as our expert base local resource scientists and fire/fuels specialists who have a direct connection to the specific landscape and HVRAs in question, and 3) introduced multivariate response functions to characterize fire effects to HVRAs that consider biophysical variables beyond fire behavior. We anticipate that this work will further the state of wildfire risk science and will lead to additional application of risk assessment to inform land management planning. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2013; 9: 329–342. © 2012 SETAC