Fairbrother, A., and J.G. Turnley. 2005. Predicting risks of uncharacteristic wildfires: Application of the risk assessment process. For. Ecol. & Mgt. 211:28-35. WED-04-040
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) mandates that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as its fire management policy evolves to cope with a legacy of over 100 years of fire suppression on national forest lands and an increasing occurrence of uncharacteristically large, intense wildfires. This paper argues that integration of a risk assessment approach into the EIA is a logical extension of the EIA process and provides a more robust method for assessing comparative risks of proposed alternatives, and integrating ecological risks with economic and social cost-benefit analyses. Risk assessment is the process of estimating the likelihood and magnitude of the occurrence of an unwanted, adverse effect. It begins with a well-defined problem formulation step that ensures involvement of stakeholders, uses available or newly developed scientific information to ascribe probabilities to the likelihood of fire initiation under various forest management practices, and describes or quantifies the magnitude of effects associated with fires of various frequencies and intensities. The risk characterization step provides comprehensive statements of risk, including assertions about uncertainty, and communicates results in a clear and intelligible manner to resource managers and interested stakeholders. Risk assessment uses probabilistic modeling to incorporate environmental stochasticity and experimental uncertainty, and incorporates spatial attributes, simultaneous multiple risks, comparative analyses of different risks, socioeconomic concerns, and ecological effects into the analysis. Placed within the EIA process, risk assessment provides a robust framework for reaching agreement on risks of uncharacteristic wildfires under a variety of proposed management scenarios.