The UA's Program on Economics, Law, and the Environment is supported by the James E. Rogers College of Law, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Cardon Endowment for Agricultural and Resource Economics. UA law professors Kirsten Engel and Dean Lueck co-direct the program, which studies the environment and natural resources through a perspective that combines economics and law.
The last two decades have been marked by increasingly intense wildfire activity, which has taxed agencies and raised a number questions about policy issues from government officials, land managers and environmentalists.
While scholars in law and economics have recently become more engaged in such conversations, this is a trend that should not only continue, but be accelerated, said Dean Lueck, a University of Arizona agricultural and resource economics professor.
To expand conversations toward improved policy, Lueck has collaborated with the University of Chicago's John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics to host a Nov. 12-13 symposium at the UA, drawing legal and economics experts from across the nation and Australia.
Fires have both positive and negative effects on ecosystems – including people, animals and land – but one of the group's main concerns and focus is on existing institutional structures, questioning whether they are best equipped to deal with the diverse range of wildfire management.
"It's a world full of uncertainty. We're talking about a world of probability and statistical analysis," Lueck said. "That is where we come in, but there has not been enough of this work."
The invitation-only "Symposium on Wildfire: Economics, Law & Policy" is planned to culminate with a series of research articles and policy papers to be published in a volume next year to inform policymakers, land managers and others.
"Fire is a global issue, and it is very complicated," said Lueck, who also co-directs the UA Program on Economics, Law and the Environment.
"You have this phenomena that doesn't necessarily pay attention to borders, so it is a complicated natural resource to manage, for good or not, and it's not going to go away as a topic," he added.
Structured as a working group, the symposium involves scholars and practitioners from the Australian National University, the University of Virginia, the University of Chicago, Washington State University, Columbia School of Law and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The group has broad expertise in areas that include laws and regulations, economics, wildfire suppression, tree-ring research, interactions between public and private land managers, insurance and budgetary issues.
Lueck will co-edit the volume of articles with Karen Bradshaw, clerk to the Honorable E. Grady Jolly, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the symposium's co-sponsor. The editors already have solidified a book agreement with Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C.-based press.
The work of the 22-member group will have implications for climate change, natural disasters economics and environmental law, Lueck said.
The effort comes during the 100-year anniversary of the Great Fire of 1910, a wildfire in which millions of acres burned along the Idaho-Montana border, killing nearly 90 people. The fire drastically changed the nation's public lands policy and ways in which wildfires were managed.
And while this year's fire season was somewhat tame throughout most of the U.S., Russia saw a stream of wildfires that resulted in dozens of deaths.
In more recent years, a number of devastating fires in the U.S. have drawn high level government concern and international news, including especially damaging fires in southern Arizona, California, Oklahoma and Alaska.
Lueck said issues related to wildfire management vary greatly and include public lands management, liability for escaped wildfires, behaviors of suppression crews, jurisdictional concerns and near-martial law when fires are in progress, to name a few.
Chiefly, symposium members will consider ways public policy can address wildfire danger the role of governments and private actors.
For instance, fire suppression and certain fire policies related to resource allocation, remain contentious issues.
"People have been a little more scrutinizing over fire suppression and policy cases where you find $1 million spent to protect a house worth $200,000," Lueck said.
"This is where we come in. Economists and legal scholars can shed some light," he said. "We can get a handle on the effects, whether there are or not effects and how things may be done differently."