• Wildfire in Alaska: the economic role of fuel treatments and homeowner preferences in the wildland urban interface

      Molina, Allen Christopher; Little, Joseph; Drury, Stacy; Baeck, Jungho; Greenberg, Joshua (2019-08)
      The challenges of increased temperatures, drier fuels and more intense wildfires are having a detrimental effect on Alaskans, especially those who live in the wildland urban interface. This area is defined by open wildlands being directly adjacent to homeowners. Human safety and property are exposed to increasing risk from these wildfires as climate-based changes affect the state. The rising costs of suppressing wildfires necessitate exploring potential solutions to minimize the impact on the state population and budget. The purpose of this study is to analyze the feasibility of fuel treatments to reduce suppression costs and provide incentives to private homeowners to create safer property spaces. An electronic survey and choice experiment were administered to 388 Alaskan homeowners to measure willingness-to-pay for different attributes associated with wildfire risk reduction variables, including nearby fuel treatments and overall neighborhood participation. Expenditure data were collected for large Alaskan wildfires between 2007 and 2015. An econometric cost model was developed to estimate the effect of nearby fuel treatments on final wildfire suppression expenditures. In both scenarios, there was a limited effect from public land fuel treatments on homeowner preferences and total suppression costs. Homeowners had a strong preference for thinned fuel treatments but did not prefer clear-cut tracts of land, even when compared to doing nothing at all. The survey provided significant insight into the preferences of Alaskan homeowners, including altruistic behavior, free riding behavior, self-assessment of risk, and the amenity values of surrounding vegetation. The costs of large Alaskan wildfires in the data set was mainly driven by protection level and number of burn days, and not by the presence or potential utilization of fuel treatments.