CSU’s WESTFIRE Center develops national fire budgeting and planning system

As fires burn throughout the western United States, Colorado State University is working with the U.S. Department of Interior to develop a new fire preparedness management tool for public lands called STARFire. STARFire is a scalable spatial fire planning and budgeting system that provides information about fire risk assessment, fuel treatment recommendations, smoke analysis and preparedness.

CSU Professor of Fire Economics Doug Rideout, who co-directs CSU’s Western Forest Fire Research Center, coordinated the development of STARFire with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to aid public land managers. The system, which includes different factors that “talk” to each other, provides essential information to managers for preparing and budgeting for wildland fire scenarios.

The STARFire system addresses all the fire-affected values on the landscape, including the risk to life and property and natural values like ecosystem health, wildlife habitat and watersheds. STARFire assessments analyze every piece of the landscape for the likely effects of fire, both positive and negative.

“For budgeting, it helps land managers determine which park or planning units need additional funds,” said Rideout. “It helps to define which programs should receive funds too. Should the budget go toward fuels treatment or preparedness — crews and engines getting ready for the fire year — and what’s that balance?”

Rideout and CSU spatial software developer Niki Kernohan began developing STARFire 10 years ago in collaboration with National Park Service Wildland Fire Management Analyst Andy Kirsch, a CSU alumnus, and Professor of Forestry Yu Wei. The system has continually evolved by integrating new elements, but this summer the tool has added a new innovative component.

“Now we’re going to make the preparedness component more comprehensive,” said Rideout. “Now, when fires break out we’re going to be able to provide information to managers so they can work with the fire and herd it into areas where it can be beneficial to the landscape. That’s never been done before.”

STARFire was used successfully on a fire in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, where the risk assessment portion of the tool showed no risks to life and property and the ecosystem would benefit from the fire. In the past, a fire like this would have been put out, but with the use of STARFire, it successfully enhanced ecosystem benefits.

So far, the fire management tool has been used to support fire preparedness planning and budgeting for 20 National Parks from coast to coast in the United States. Rocky Mountain National Park’s STARFire analysis determined that low-intensity fires in some areas would be beneficial. In certain areas, such as the headwaters of the Colorado River, low-intensity fires actually improve the watershed.

“STARFire has been used at the local level in fire management plans and helps to identify the trade-off between fire management tactics leading to best practices,” said Kirsch. “We’re hoping to expand the use of STARFire to other parks across the United States, allowing for land managers to use a proactive approach to fire management. The tool also will allow land managers to be more efficient with funding as they move from written plans to this interactive model.”


The CSU-based Western Forest Fire Research Center, or WESTFIRE, promotes interdisciplinary solutions to Colorado’s and the nation’s most pressing fire management problems. It seeks and promotes scientifically vetted solutions to fuels management, ecosystem restoration and fire suppression. WESTFIRE is housed in the Warner College of Natural Resources.