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Western Wildfire Resilience Index

Measuring and communicating community resilience to wildfire


The Western Wildfire Resilience Index (WWRI) will measure and communicate wildfire resilience at the community level.

This project will calculate index scores for human-ecological communities in the western regions of the US and Canada to inform decision-makers when crafting wildfire preparedness, response, and recovery policies. 

The index will summarize the condition and resilience of each area of interest across a diverse set of variables and metrics. WWRI index scores will be displayed with a transparent, user-friendly interface so that decision-makers, resource managers, and property owners will be able to see which factors are driving the index score of any given area. WWRI is expected to launch in 2025.


Regional Focus

The WWRI study area includes the land, rivers, and lakes in the western continental states and regions of US and Canada. We are focusing on this portion of North America because of the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in this region. This region includes densely populated areas, such as Los Angeles, California, and some of the least densely populated areas on the continent, such as in the State of Alaska and Yukon Territory in Canada. There are more than 82 million people living in this region.1,2 Many cultures and ecosystems rely on fire, as an essential and vitalizing force. At the same time, human communities can face displacement, health risks, and existential threats due to destructive wildfires, and ecosystems and species are increasingly threatened by environmental change. WWRI will include both social and environmental indicators of resilience so that decision-makers can prioritize effective actions for their community or area of interest, and communities and ecosystems can eventually co-exist, and even thrive, with low severity fire.


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Literature Review (2023)

Analyze current wildfire resilience research, policies, and data sources. Identify commonalities and gaps across this body of literature. Determine key metrics and develop an informed framework for the index in partnership with our wildfire expert working group.

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Development (2023-2024)

Apply open source data to the index framework. Partner with wildfire resilience programs in government, academia, and private sectors for information and strategy sharing. Develop an interactive website for public use of WWRI as a decision-making resource.

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Expert Review (2024-2025)

Engage our wildfire expert working group to review the functionality and efficacy of the index and the interface. Troubleshoot and fine-tune details prior to public launch.

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Launch (2025)

Unveil the completed WWRI interface for public use. Promote WWRI throughout our network of partners and collaborators to inform wildfire resilience policies and programs across the western continental states and regions of US and Canada.



wildland fires in the U.S. and Canada in 20221,2


acres of land burned across the U.S. and Canada in 20221,2


in fire suppression costs in the U.S. for 20223


in fire suppression costs in Canada for 20174


What is an index?

An Index is a composite measure of many individual indicators. Gross Domestic Production (GDP) and many investment portfolios (e.g., the Dow Jones) are common examples in finance. In the environment, a good example is the Ocean Health Index (OHI).

What does resilience mean?

There are many accepted definitions of “resilience”, and definitions often change over time due to colloquial use. In general, “wildfire resilience” refers to the ability of a community or ecosystem to recover from or adapt to the impacts of wildfire, measured with both social and environmental metrics. We use “resilience” to describe the cycle of preparedness, response, and recovery experienced by people, flora, and fauna, on landscapes with wildfires.

What is the difference between “wildfire” and “wildland fire”?

The term “wildland fire” is used in the US and Canada to indicate all kinds of fire on the landscape, regardless of the cause or reason for ignition. Both countries recognize two main kinds of wildland fire: wildfire and prescribed fire.4,5

In general, wildfires are fires that are ignited naturally, such as by lightning, or by human action. The US Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission defines wildfires as fires that burn in the natural environment, regardless of whether they are ignited in the natural environment or built environment.5 The Canadian Government defines wildfires as those that are in the natural environment and are “uncontrolled”.4

What is a prescribed burn?

A prescribed burn is a fire that is ignited intentionally and controlled by experts for different management purposes.5 However, when prescribed fires escape control, they may be considered wildfires.

What is a cultural burn and how is it different from a prescribed burn?

A cultural burn is the term used to describe the traditional fire practices of Indigenous peoples. The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission (WFMMC) defines cultural burns as, “the Indigenous practice of lighting fires to produce a desired cultural service, be it promotion of medicinal plants, fiber production, first foods, or for ceremony”.6 The WFMMC advised the US government in their September 2023 final report to recognize cultural burns as fundamentally different from prescribed burns because of their unique preparation, execution, and frequency.

Cultural burns may vary widely because they are based on the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples. It is important to note that most Indigenous peoples still need to obtain permits from American governments in order to conduct cultural burns. Some Tribal members believe that this bureaucratic process undercuts the validity of cultural burns.

Why is low severity fire important?

Generally, a low severity fire is one that results in less than 25% tree mortality, and has a limited impact on soil.7 Many ecosystems and species are adapted to naturally-occurring low-severity fire. For example, giant sequoia and ponderosa pine both depend on low-severity fires for seed dispersal. Low-severity fires remove excess fuel, such as leaf litter, overgrown shrubs, and logs. They also remove harmful insects and disease from the environment. By removing excess fuel and reducing the spread of insects and disease among tree stands, these low-severity fires often prevent larger, more severe fires from occurring.8 Following a low-severity fire, more area on the forest floor becomes available for new plants and small mammals, which in turn provide food for species up the food chain.8,9

Meet the Team

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Ben Halpern

As the Executive Director, Ben sets the vision and programmatic direction for NCEAS. He also serves as a principal investigator on several projects and working groups. Ben is also a professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

His research interests are primarily in marine ecology and conservation planning, but span a wide range of disciplines. He has led several research initiatives that have influenced ocean management, including a global analysis of the effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs), a global assessment of the cumulative impacts of human activities on oceans, and the development and global application of the Ocean Health Index.

Ben has been involved with NCEAS for more than two decades, first as a graduate student participant and a postdoctoral researcher, and later as a Center Associate and Deputy Director. He earned his B.A. in biology from Carleton College in 1995 and his Ph.D. in marine ecology from UC Santa Barbara in 2003.

Executive Director
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Cat Fong

Dr. Cat Fong is the Project Manager and lead Project Scientist for WWRI. Her research focuses primarily on social and ecological resilience and includes field, lab, and modeling work.

Cat earned a BA and a PhD in Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016. Her doctoral research focused on host-parasite interactions in the rocky intertidal zone.

After, as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology, she transitioned to focusing on resilience of nearshore marine communities to human impacts. In this position, she studied how multiple stressors drove transitions to macroalgae on tropical coral reefs, and assessed whether mitigation of these stressors could drive recovery.

In 2020, Cat took a position at NCEAS as a Research Scientist with the Conservation Aquaculture Research Team and explored how aquaculture could be leveraged as a sustainability solution. In 2024, she transitioned to working on wildfire resilience on the WWRI project.

Project Manager,
Lead Project Scientist
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Amelia Liberatore

Amelia is the liaison between the world of data science and the world of wildfire policy. Prior to joining NCEAS, she studied desert biodiversity, worked on organic farms, and served as a community coordinator at an environmental peace-building program.

Amelia holds a BA in environmental studies, a certificate in natural resource conflict resolution, and a MA in environmental journalism, all from the University of Montana.

Science & Policy
Communications Liaison
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Austin Hoang

Austin is a Web Developer for the Western Wildfire Resilience Index (WWRI). He will be building websites for WWRI, as well as data visualization interfaces.

Austin has a background in software and web development in relation to biomedical research and developer tools. Austin completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Web Developer
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Erika Egg

Erika Egg is a data analyst on the Western Wildfire Resilience Index (WWRI) project at NCEAS. She previously worked as an Ocean Health Index Fellow and, before that, as an Arctic Data Center Intern, both also at NCEAS.

Her research experience has also included lab, field, and data analysis work related to marine chemical analysis, landscape restoration, urban forestry, food security, and the environmental impacts of COVID-19. She particularly enjoys learning about and contributing to research surrounding interdisciplinary urban-centered socio-environmental topics.

Erika completed a triple major in Environmental Studies, Linguistics (Emphasis in Language and Speech Technologies), and History of Art and Architecture (Emphasis in Architecture and Environment) during her undergraduate education and afterwards completed a Master of Environmental Data Science, both at UCSB.

Data Analyst
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Carlo Broderick

Carlo Broderick is a data analyst for the Western Wildfire Resilience Index (WWRI). The WWRI is a science communication tool designed to help people and policymakers understand how resilient their communities are to wildfires. Carlo collaborates with two other data analysts and the broader WWRI team to research, develop, and implement WWRI's methodology. His work focuses on the creation and calculation of the index through reproducible, open source, and collaborative data science.

Carlo holds a master's degree in Environmental Data Science from UC Santa Barbara, a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from UC Berkeley, and a bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies and Economics from UC Santa Cruz. His professional background includes supply chain visibility, SAS project management, and sustainability-focused scientific administration.

Passionate about utilizing data science to measure and manage environmental externalities, Carlo has a special interest in satellite image and machine learning (SIML) technology and it's potential impact on sustainable development. His passion for environmental economics can be found in his flaming hot composable plastic takes and his strong aversion to market failures.

Data Analyst
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Mona Farnisa

Mona Farnisa is a data analyst on the Western Wildfire Resilience Index (WWRI) project at NCEAS. Before getting into ecological data analysis, Mona worked in the agriculture sector and was interested in combining greenhouse agricultural production and environmental data metrics.

Mona has a M.S. in environmental science and natural resources from the University of Nevada, Reno, where she researched high desert floral hemp, and a B.S. in environmental science from Amsterdam University College in The Netherlands.

Data Analyst

Meet the Working Group

  • Marek Smith, The Nature Conservancy
  • Shefali Juneja Lakhina, Wonder Labs
  • Connor Nolan, Stanford University
  • Oliver Brandes, University of Victoria
  • Ilkay Altintas, UC San Diego
  • Claire Tortorelli, UC Davis
  • Max Moritz, UC Santa Barbara
  • Joan Dudney, UC Santa Barbara
  • Malcolm North, US Forest Service
  • Miranda Mockrin, US Forest Service
  • Winslow Hansen, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies