Quantifying the net economic benefits of mechanical wildfire hazard treatments on timberlands of the western United States
Mechanical treatment of vegetation is done on public and private lands for many possible reasons, including enhancing wildlife habitat, increasing timber growth of residual stands, and improving resistance to damaging pests. Few studies, however, have focused on the circumstances under which mechanical wildfire hazard reduction treatments can yield positive net economic wildfire benefits for landowners and managers. This study describes an economic assessment tool built from a representative area sample frame inventory of hazardous and potentially treatable timberland in twelve western states of the U.S. Base case parameter assumptions about values at risk, timber product prices, stand re-growth following treatment and wildfire impacts enable an initial estimate of the amount of timberland with positive discounted expected net economic benefits under four policy scenarios. These assumptions are then varied in a Monte Carlo simulation to provide some bounds of uncertainty around base case levels. A policy that allowed optimal prescriptions and product sales and which incorporates wildfire costs and benefits would result in more than 25% of treated area with positive net benefits. This is reduced somewhat if wildfire reduction costs and benefits are not considered, and reduced again to 14% when large trees are excluded from product sales. A policy that prohibits sale of products from these treatments results in less than 1% of area with positive net benefits. Published by Elsevier B.V.