Scenario Planning

This research concerns the development and application of spatial scenario planning models to analyze a wide range of forest and restoration management issues on fire frequent landscapes.

The Forest Service and other US public land management agencies invest in vegetation management programs with the long-term goal of restoring fire resiliency to fire frequent forests, protecting communities from wildfire, improving forest health, and providing economic opportunities for rural communities. The multiple and conflicting objectives of restoration and forest management programs coupled with finite budgets and a large backlog of areas needing treatments have created a challenge for managers to prioritize management efforts and allocate funding to high priority areas. The need for prioritization models continues to grow as the agency is increasingly challenged to meet management targets and produce a wide range of ecosystem services from national forest lands. Explicit identification of tradeoffs among program areas for fuels, timber, watersheds, and forest health at the scale of national forests and regions can potentially have manifold benefits to the agency in terms of articulating current and alternative investment strategies.

To understand how these conflicts play out on large fire frequent landscapes we built a spatial scenario planning model, ForSys, and used to in several case studies to examine how different management priorities translate into landscape change. Scenario planning is a key component of the larger Chief's Shared Stewardship initiative and is intended to improve investment strategies in landscape treatments across shared boundaries. The model was designed to explore landscape management scenarios and optimize decisions in terms of where and how to achieve different outcomes and outputs at different scales. We are studying these management tradeoffs by simulating a wide range of management scenarios where activities are prioritized according to multiple agency land assessments on wildfire risk, economic opportunity, and ecological conditions. In contrast to typical assessments of forest conditions, scenario planning with ForSys provides a way to optimize treatments at the stand scale to meet larger scale objectives and constraints (i.e., Watersheds, Forests, Regions), providing a linkage between national policy and on-the-ground implementation. This effort will modernize how the USFS and our partners identify, prioritize, and implement treatment activities across the landscape by using cloud-based, geospatial technology to explore and rapidly visualize various management scenarios and treatment optimization decisions in terms of where and how to achieve different outcomes and outputs at different scales on the ground.

Beyond using this system to examine agency priorities, scenario planning can be used to identify cross boundary opportunities and prioritize activities that are leveraging new authorizing environments to expand the scale of land treatments with stakeholders. In this way the current mismatch between the scale of wildfire risk and the scale of forest management activities can be reduced. Joint prioritization of forest management activities is clearly spelled out in both the national shared stewardship vision and in Memorandums of Understanding with State partners. A sound framework for prioritization is called for in existing agreements and the shared stewardship report.

Results from several publications have demonstrated scale-dependent tradeoffs among the multiple management goals in the Forest Service. The products from this research are being used to support Forest Service prioritization planning in several regions. On-going case studies are being used to study how prioritization processes can be improved. Application for shared stewardship co-prioritization in several states have also revealed tradeoffs among management goals related to economics (wood products), wildfire protection to the WUI, and fire ecology objectives.

The primary product from the scenario planning project is the Scenario Investment Planning Platform (SIPP), a tool to develop national investment strategies.  Example figures from SIPP are shown below.

Scenario Planning links to the Fireshed Registry

The Fireshed Registry was built as a data warehouse for the scenario planning model and stores data for simulating specific investment scenarios related to reducing wildfire risk to communities.  The Registry also provides a geospatial dashboard to allow managers and specialists to view and map a vast array of data related to wildfire transmission, past and planned management, and past and predicted wildfires.  The all lands geography of the Fireshed Registry makes it a useful platform for shared stewardship as well.


Variation among national forests in percentage of area treated over the ten-year management plan
Example accelerated fuels treatment scenario
Hypothetical 60-year schedule of maintenance re-treatments
Example scenario for an accelerated schedule of hazardous fuels treatment implementation on national forest lands in the western US prioritizing treating the sources of wildfire exposure to buildings in adjacent communities.

Select Publications & Products

Scenario Investment Planning Platform (SIPP)-Capabilities Demonstration

Ager, A. A., A. Barros, H. K. Preisler, M. A. Day, T. Spies, J. Bailey, and J. Bolte. 2017a. Effects of accelerated wildfire on future fire regimes and implications for the United States federal fire policy. Ecology and Society 22:12.

Ager, A. A., A. M. Barros, R. Houtman, R. Seli, and M. A. Day. 2020. Modelling the effect of accelerated forest management on long-term wildfire activity. Ecological Modelling 421: 108962.

Ager, A. A., M. A. Day, and K. Vogler. 2016. Production possibility frontiers and socioecological tradeoffs for restoration of fire adapted forests. Journal of Environmental Management 176:157-168.

Ager, A. A., M. A. Day, A. Waltz, M. Nigrelli, and M. Lata. 2021. Balancing ecological and economic objectives in restoration of fire frequent forests – Case study from the Four Forest Restoration Initiative Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-424, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO.

Ager, A. A., C. R. Evers, M. A. Day, R. Houtman, and F. J. Alcasena. In review. Planning for future fire: scenario analysis of an accelerated fuel reduction plan for the western United States Landscape and Urban Planning.

Ager, A. A., R. Houtman, M. A. Day, C. Ringo, and P. Palaiologou. 2019. Tradeoffs between US national forest harvest targets and fuel management to reduce wildfire transmission to the wildland urban interface. Forest Ecology and Management 434:99-109.

Ager, A. A., K. C. Vogler, M. A. Day, and J. D. Bailey. 2017b. Economic opportunities and trade-offs in collaborative forest landscape restoration. Ecological Economics 136:226-239.

Day, M. A., R. Houtman, P. Belavenutti, C. Ringo, A. A. Ager, and S. Bassett. 2021. An assessment of forest and woodland restoration priorities to address wildfire risk in New Mexico. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-423, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO.