Monday, 7 January 2019: 8:45 AM
North 222AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
The Oklahoma Mesonet has been providing a range of benefits to different user groups in different sectors. While the utility of this information and value-added tools have extensively been emphasized over the years of Mesonet operations since 1994, economic analyses defining those benefits in a quantitative manner are still very scarce. This paper has two goals: 1) Initiate discussion on economic evaluations pertaining to Mesonet weather information and tools for different beneficiary groups; 2) Present an evaluation example for ongoing research efforts of our team for the OK-FIRE system. The OK-FIRE system was introduced in 2006 as one of Oklahoma Mesonet’s tools to support decision making in wildland fire management. Since its development it has been widely and frequently used across Oklahoma to assess past and current fire conditions as well as to predict potential fire dangers by means of a multitude of meteorological variables and indexes (e.g., relative humidity, wind speed and direction, burning index, spread rates, and critical dead fuel moisture conditions). OK-FIRE has been utilized by several federal agencies, such as U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. Its importance has especially been appreciated at the state level by the Oklahoma Forestry Services, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, fire departments, emergency managers, cooperative extension educators, and private landowners. This large diversity of the user groups substantiates the relevance of the OK-FIRE decision-support tool for the society, economic and industrial activities, and environmental conditions. OK-FIRE plays a particularly important role in the state of Oklahoma characterized by high potential threats of wildfires as ~50% of Oklahoma’s land areas are comprised of rangeland and 28% are comprised of forest (Oklahoma Rangelands, 2018; Oklahoma Forestry Services, 2018). Given that ~2.5 million acres of Oklahoma’s land burns annually (10% by wildfire and 90% by prescribed fire) (Carlson et al., 2010), while drought conditions in Oklahoma have become increasingly severe in the past decades, the question about economic benefits provided by OK-FIRE application has become more pertinent. Specifically, this regards economic benefits of prevented losses due to the application of OK-FIRE decision-support system (both in terms of predicting potential wildfires and managing prescribed fires). So far, economic analyses of this kind but also evaluations of potential economic benefits in the future are missing. Due to increasing severity of drought events in Oklahoma it is essential to focus more comprehensively and extensively on economic evaluations and implications of wildfires as well as economic advantages of fire management. This paper will address those aspects and highlight our research efforts to estimate the economic value of the OK-FIRE management tool for different economic sectors and societal groups. An economic evaluation of this kind is crucial to more efficiently support statewide efforts aimed at preventing wildfires (and thus protecting human properties and human lives), to optimize deployment of emergency managers, and to preserve natural ecosystems in a more sustainable way.
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