Improved management of coastal heathlands reduces this fire hazard and thereby lowers the costs of fires to society, which include the costs of firefighting, loss of property and production value, and loss of biodiversity.
This report analyzes data on how the fire hazard in Norwegian coastal heathlands varies with weather conditions, management and use. The analysis combines data on type of vegetation, extent of overgrowth, maintenance and management of coastal heathlands, with data on the fire departments’ response to fire emergencies in grassland, scrub and forests, as well as weather data. The analysis uses panel data regressions to analyze how the risk of fire, measured as number of responses to landscape fires, varies with weather as well as with the way coastal heathlands are used and managed. The results suggest that weather is the most important driver for these fires, and that lack of precipitation over an extended period coupled with high temperatures and strong winds is the greatest contributor to the fire hazard. There are especially many fires associated with coastal heathlands, and the number of fire emergencies increases with reduced management and consequent overgrowth. The use of coastal heathlands for recreational activities also leads to an increase in the number of fire emergencies. Furthermore, the analysis shows that the likelihood of a fire spreading from grassland and scrub to forests is higher in coastal heathlands rather than in other types of grass and scrub landscapes. An important finding in the report is that increased management of coastal heathlands significantly reduces the risk of fire, especially during periods of drought, heat, and strong winds. This is because well-maintained coastal heathlands have little combustible (dry) vegetation and are not highly flammable even in periods when the fire hazard is otherwise great.
The last part of the report uses a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the net benefits to society of improving the management of Norwegian coastal heathlands. We find that the social benefits of increased management of coastal heathlands far exceed the social costs. This is because the costs of firefighting in grassland scrub and forests are quite high relative to the costs of improved management. This conclusion is robust, and the uncertainty associated with the analysis points in the direction of increasing the profitability of improved management. Although there are positive net social benefits associated with improved heathland management, there are few incentives in the current subsidy schemes for improving management to a socially optimal level. One reason is that the main share of benefits yielded by increasing the level of management do not accrue to those who bear the costs of managing heathlands, who are mainly farmers and landowners. Instead, the greatest benefit of improved management is the lower costs associated with firefighting. The current subsidy schemes do not take into account all the costs and benefits of the measures, including lower firefighting costs. A coordinated assessment of costs and benefits across all affected government agencies will be required to take account of all costs and determine the level of heathland management that benefits society as a whole.