Cohort 1 Studio Research

Wildfires are an increasing threat to communities across the Western United States. However, few analyses have focused on the Intermountain West (IMW) region. Evaluating how fire characteristics are changing in the IMW is vital for understanding the myriad of effects wildfires have on surrounding areas. Widespread development and the shift in settlement from rural to urban areas within the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) has increased the risk of populations to wildfires. Wildfires can also result in complex and long-term costs to communities by affecting industries of local and regional economies. A better understanding of how and where wildfires are changing will allow managers and policy-makers to make more effective and efficient policy. Our interdisciplinary approach investigates how trends in fire characteristics influence regional adaptive management and economies in the rural and urban areas of the IMW. Specifically, we explore three interrelated questions: 1) Are fire frequency and area burned changing within the IMW? 2) How do urban and rural fires influence local economies? and 3) How do trends in the characteristics and economic impacts of fire influence perspectives of managers and adaptive decision-making in rural and urban areas? We quantified fire characteristics as fire frequency and area burned and found increasing trends at the regional, state levels, and county levels. We interviewed 20 fire managers about their management perspectives, challenges, and adaptation strategies in three of the regions that are experiencing increases in fire characteristics. Most managers recognize a form of  increasing fire trends and are implementing adaptive strategies to mitigate these trends. Using a non-parametric event study model, we evaluated the effects of fire events in rural versus urban areas on private industry employment for the 281 counties in the IMW. Generally, there is a short-term positive effect of fire on employment at several scales, while short-term negative effects may be present for specific sectors. Interviews confirmed both the positive and negative economic effects of fire. Through these interviews, we identified key challenges to implementing adaptive fire and forest management strategies to mitigate increasing fire risk in the IMW.

Fire Trends of the Intermountain West

Economic Impacts of Fire

Fire Management Perspectives