The Connection Between Private Values And Public Land Management Goals


Home in Lake Tahoe that was saved during recent fire.

Managers of public forest lands manage for forest health, habitat, wildfire, and erosion control, while also considering stakeholder responses to management activities.  Stakeholder impact may be positive or negative. Private actions on private lands can relieve constraints on public forest management, thereby increasing the effectiveness of public management efforts.  

For example, a buffer of defensible space on private lands allows a wider variety of management options on surrounding public lands. Private erosion-reducing activities can allow for removal of flammable litter from forest floors, which may generate some erosion.  

Development and public resistance to tree-removal programs impose constraints on public management, reducing what can be done with limited budgets.  Previous research suggests that private under-investment results in higher levels of wildfire severity and suppression costs. 

Using economic theory and models from other social sciences, individuals weigh trade-offs between benefits and costs of their actions to themselves, and to some extent, they include public benefits and costs. Benefits and costs include monetary changes as well as changes in scenic beauty, water clarity, risk from wildfire; so that actions (both negative and positive) are a complex function of individual values for public and private services from forested ecosystems. 

Adding to the complexity of choices faced by private individuals, are situations where actions are not compatible.  Erosion reducing actions may be incompatible with defensible space, and both may be inconsistent with perceptions of scenic beauty and forest ecosystem health. 

This project applies mathematical models of individual actions and their net contribution to forest management to the Lake Tahoe Basin. The results will be used to address:

  1. the deviation between the public benefits and private benefits of private actions,
  2. deviation between private perceptions and objective assessment of risk,
  3. cost-effectiveness of achieving goals relating to fire risk and water quality set by local agencies, and
  4. wildfire threat.  

This research will develop quantifiable measures of expected private contributions to a holistic set of forest management goals in subalpine forest ecosystems affected by development pressure, private values, private actions, and public pressure. We wish to model and quantify the determinants of voluntary private actions in the context of forest ecosystem management. We will synthesize the results to provide agencies with information that fosters policies and approaches for a cost-effective balance of private and public sector investments to reduce risks and costs from wildfire in the subalpine forested ecosystems.

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