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Exploring and Testing Wildfire Risk Decision-Making in the Face of Deep Uncertainty

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We integrated a mechanistic wildfire simulation system with an agent-based landscape change model to investigate the feedbacks among climate change, population growth, development, landowner decision-making, vegetative succession, and wildfire. Our goal was to develop an adaptable simulation platform for anticipating risk-mitigation tradeoffs in a fire-prone wildland–urban interface (WUI) facing conditions outside the bounds of experience. We describe how five social and ecological system (SES) submodels interact over time and space to generate highly variable alternative futures even within the same scenario as stochastic elements in simulated wildfire, succession, and landowner decisions create large sets of unique, path-dependent futures for analysis. We applied the modeling system to an 815 km2 study area in western Oregon at a sub-taxlot parcel grain and annual timestep, generating hundreds of alternative futures for 2007–2056 (50 years) to explore how WUI communities facing compound risks from increasing wildfire and expanding periurban development can situate and assess alternative risk management approaches in their localized SES context. The ability to link trends and uncertainties across many futures to processes and events that unfold in individual futures is central to the modeling system. By contrasting selected alternative futures, we illustrate how assessing simulated feedbacks between wildfire and other SES processes can identify tradeoffs and leverage points in fire-prone WUI landscapes. Assessments include a detailed “post-mortem” of a rare, extreme wildfire event, and uncovered, unexpected stabilizing feedbacks from treatment costs that reduced the effectiveness of agent responses to signs of increasing risk.

B.R. Johnson; A.A. Ager; C.R. Evers; D.W. Hulse; M. Nielsen-Pincus; T.J. Sheehan; J.P. Bolte

Johnson BR, Ager AA, Evers CR, Hulse DW, Nielsen-Pincus M, Sheehan TJ, Bolte JP. Exploring and Testing Wildfire Risk Decision-Making in the Face of Deep Uncertainty. Fire. 2023 ;6(7).

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