Stranded Land Constrains Public Land Management and Contributes to Larger Fires
This paper provides evidence that large fires occurring on inaccessible land may be driven in part by agencies' inability to conduct fuels management and in part by slower suppression responses on these properties.
Wildfire activity in the western United States has been increasing since the 1970s, with many fires occurring on land managed by government agencies. Over six million acres of public lands are surrounded by private land and lack road access, making them legally inaccessible to federal and state agencies and potentially constraining management and suppression of wildfires. In this paper, we assemble data on all fires that started on public lands in the western US over the period 1992–2015 and estimate the effect of legal accessibility on fire size. We find that ignitions are 14%–23% more likely to become large (greater than one acre) if they occur on inaccessible land. We provide evidence that this effect may be driven in part by agencies' inability to conduct fuels management and in part by slower suppression responses on legally inaccessible land. Our results suggest that wildfire prevention and suppression could be bolstered by improved access to public lands and underscore the need for ongoing research on the relationship between land ownership and wildfire.
Arizona State University
Andrew J Plantinga
University of California Santa Barbara
Media Highlight — May 31, 2022
NM Political Report: "Researchers Say Fire Policies Should Take Demographics into Account"
A news article links New Mexico's devastating fires to a new paper by RFF scholars Matt Wibbenmeyer and Molly Robertson about the demographics of those most at risk for wildfires.
Media Highlight — May 27, 2022
Mountain West News Bureau: "High Price Homes Are More Likely to Be Threatened by Wildfires"
A story created by a collaboration of public radio stations in the western United States details a new, peer-reviewed paper on the demographics of people who face the highest wildfire risk.