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Assessment of Wildfire Risk Flawed

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Assessment of Wildfire Risk Flawed

Study finds The Nature Conservancy failed to consider probability of fire in the Santa Fe headwaters forest

Contact: Sam Hitt, 505-577-2944, sam@wildwatershed.org

Additional Contact:
Paul Davis, EnviroLogic Inc., 505-688-6053 p_davis@envirologicinc.com

SANTA FE — A wildfire risk assessment of the the forests near Santa Fe produced by The Nature Conservancy cannot be relied on by the Forest Service to support on going and planned tree clearing and burning projects according to a review published today by the Santa Fe Forest Coalition.

TNC had claimed that their wildfire risk assessment is a useful tool for planning wildfire risk reduction treatments. It calculated the consequences of 640,000 theoretical wildfires occurring randomly throughout a 107,000 acre forest near Santa Fe under varying weather conditions and concluded that wildfires will likely have a wide variety of negative effects including the destruction of homes and flooding.

However, the TNC wildfire risk assessment cannot be used to support forest management decisions according to the review released today.

According to the reviewer, Paul Davis , the TNC risk 1 assessment cannot be used for forest management decisions because it did not address the key issue of probability. It also did not estimate the costs of potentially damaged resources or the cost associated with risk reduction treatments. Further, the likelihood that resources would be damaged in the event of a fire or address the effectiveness of risk reduction treatments were not addressed.

Wildfire risk is the combination of the likelihood of a wildfire occurring coupled with the consequences of that wildfire. However, the risk assessment failed to address the likelihood that a fire will occur leaving us with no knowledge of the current risk of a wildfire and therefore no ability to judge the value of the hypothetical risk reductions associated with burning or tree clearing.

The review notes that the likelihood of a wildfire occurring could have been calculated from historic records of wildfire along with consideration of the potential impacts of climate change.

"The study of risk is seriously flawed and cannot be used to hoodwink taxpayers into supporting environmentally destructive tree clearing" said Sam Hitt, president of the Santa Fe Forest Coalition. "Instead of reducing risk, cleared areas become more flammable by encouraging the growth of combustible grasses, shrubs and small trees. This heightened risk is being ignored by the Forest Service and their collaborators."

Wild Watershed and two individuals filed suit in federal district court in May seeking, in part, an environmental impact study for the headwaters forest to accurately assess risk and determine costs and benefits of fuel treatments.

See the full review.


1. Paul Davis is the founder and senior scientist at EnviroLogic Inc., a consulting group based in Durango, Colorado. Mr. Davis has over 30 years of experience in the field of risk and decision analysis and is retired from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque where he was the manager of the Environmental Risk and Decision Analysis department.

Here's the printable Press Release.