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Matthew P. Thompson

Matt in Chile

Research Forester

240 W Prospect Rd
Fort Collins, CO 80526
Contact Matthew P. Thompson

Current Research

risk, decision, and systems analysis; wildland fire management; forest management.

Research Interests

Application of principles from systems engineering, industrial engineering, risk analysis, operations research, economics, and decision-making under uncertainty to complex resource management with economic and environmental objectives. With future work I hope to better incorporate spatiotemporal dynamics into integrated risk assessment, facilitate the application of comparative risk assessment frameworks to inform strategic planning efforts, better understand the role of human factors and incentives in decision-making, improve our ability to model the effectiveness of suppression resources, and continue to systematically explore methods for addressing uncertainty.

Past Research

My past research has focused on the integration of systems and industrial engineering with economics and other disciplines to support natural resource management and decision making.

Why This Research is Important

The spatial, temporal, and social dimensions of wildfire risk are challenging the Forest Service to meet societal needs while maintaining the health of its land base. The confluence of past management practices and philosophies, a changing climate, and increased human development into fire-prone areas result in magnified threat to human and ecological values. There is a continued need for increased analytical rigor, systems thinking, and alignment with risk management principles within the wildland fire management community. Collectively my research seeks to promote enhanced pre-fire planning, development of safer and more effective response strategies, landscape restoration and resource protection, and ultimately to inform and improve decision-making processes, be it related to wildfire management or more broadly to natural resources management with multiple objectives.


  • Stanford University, Certificate, Strategic Risk and Decision Making, 2017
  • Oregon State University, Ph.D., Forest Engineering, 2009
  • Oregon State University, M.S., Forest Management, 2008
  • University of California, Berkeley, M.S., Industrial Engineering & Operations Research, 2002
  • University of Virginia, B.S., Systems Engineering, 2001
  • Professional Experience

    Research Forester, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Human Dimensions Program
    2009 to present


    Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, 2016
    The highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers
    Research & Development Deputy Chief's Early Career Scientist Award, 2013
    Award recognizes scientists at the beginning of their research careers who have demonstrated outstanding capability and exceptional promise for significant future achievement.

    Featured Publications


    Gannon, Benjamin M.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Deming, Kira Z.; Bayham, Jude; Wei, Yu; O'Connor, Christopher D., 2020. A geospatial framework to assess fireline effectiveness for large wildfires in the western USA
    Wei, Yu; Thompson, Matthew P.; Belval, Erin; Gannon, Benjamin; Calkin, Dave E.; O'Connor, Christopher D., 2020. Comparing contingency fire containment strategies using simulated random scenarios
    Rodriguez y Silva, Francisco; Martinez, Juan Ramon Molina; Thompson, Matthew P.; O'Connor, Christopher D., 2020. Landscape and Wildfires Seminary: Diagnosis and suppression, methodological advances
    Rodriguez y Silva, Francisco; O'Connor, Christopher D.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Martinez, Juan Ramon Molina; Calkin, Dave E., 2020. Modelling suppression difficulty: Current and future applications
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Bayham, Jude; Belval, Erin, 2020. Potential COVID-19 outbreak in fire camp: Modeling scenarios and interventions
    Dunn, Christopher J.; O'Connor, Christopher D.; Abrams, Jesse; Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Johnston, James D.; Stratton, Rick; Gilbertson-Day, Julie, 2020. Wildfire risk science facilitates adaptation of fire-prone social-ecological systems to the new fire reality
    Schultz, Courtney A.; Thompson, Matthew P.; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2019. Forest Service fire management and the elusiveness of change
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Wei, Yu; Calkin, Dave E.; O'Connor, Christopher D.; Dunn, Christopher; Anderson, Nathaniel (Nate); Hogland, John, 2019. Risk management and analytics in wildfire response
    Dunn, Christopher J.; O'Connor, Christopher D.; Reilly, Matthew J.; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2019. Spatial and temporal assessment of responder exposure to snag hazards in post-fire environments
    Riley, Karin; Thompson, Matthew P.; Scott, Joe H.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W., 2018. A model-based framework to evaluate alternative wildfire suppression strategies
    Belval, Erin J.; Calkin, Dave E.; Wei, Yu; Stonesifer, Crystal S.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Masarie, Alex, 2018. Examining dispatching practices for Interagency Hotshot Crews to reduce seasonal travel distance and manage fatigue
    Wei, Yu; Thompson, Matthew P.; Haas, Jessica R.; Dillon, Gregory K.; O'Connor, Christopher D., 2018. Spatial optimization of operationally relevant large fire confine and point protection strategies: Model development and test cases
    Dunn, Christopher J.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E., 2017. A framework for developing safe and effective large-fire response in a new fire management paradigm
    Riley, Karin; Thompson, Matthew P., 2017. An uncertainty analysis of wildfire modeling [Chapter 13]
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Riley, Karin; Loeffler, Dan; Haas, Jessica R., 2017. Modeling fuel treatment leverage: Encounter rates, risk reduction, and suppression cost impacts
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Warmink, Jord J., 2017. Natural hazard modeling and uncertainty analysis [Chapter 2]
    Belval, Erin J.; Wei, Yu; Calkin, Dave E.; Stonesifer, Crystal S.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Tipton, John R., 2017. Studying interregional wildland fire engine assignments for large fire suppression
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Dunn, Christopher J.; Calkin, Dave E., 2017. Systems thinking and wildland fire management
    Hand, Michael; Katuwal, Hari; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2017. The influence of incident management teams on the deployment of wildfire suppression resources
    Dunn, Christopher J.; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2017. Towards enhanced risk management: Planning, decision making and monitoring of US wildfire response
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, David; Scott, Joe H.; Hand, Michael., 2017. Uncertainty and probability in wildfire management decision support: An example from the United States [Chapter 4]
    Riley, Karin; Thompson, Matthew P.; Webley, Peter; Hyde, Kevin D., 2017. Uncertainty in natural hazards, modeling and decision support: An introduction to this volume [Chapter 1]
    Wei, Yu; Belval, Erin J.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Stonesifer, Crystal S., 2016. A simulation and optimisation procedure to model daily suppression resource transfers during a fire season in Colorado
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Bowden, Phil; Brough, April; Scott, Joe H.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie; Taylor, Alan; Anderson, Jennifer; Haas, Jessica R., 2016. Application of wildfire risk assessment results to wildfire response planning in the southern Sierra Nevada, California, USA
    O'Connor, Christopher D.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Rodriguez y Silva, Francisco, 2016. Getting ahead of the wildfire problem: Quantifying and mapping management challenges and opportunities
    Thompson, Matthew P.; MacGregor, Donald G.; Calkin, Dave E., 2016. Risk management: Core principles and practices, and their relevance to wildland fire
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Zimmerman, Tom; Mindar, Dan; Taber, Mary, 2016. Risk terminology primer: Basic principles and a glossary for the wildland fire management community
    Marcot, Bruce G.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Bonnot, Thomas W.; Thompson, Frank R., 2016. Uncertainty is information, too
    Stonesifer, Crystal S.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; McHugh, Charles W., 2015. Characterizing large airtanker use in United States fire management
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Haas, Jessica R.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Scott, Joe H.; Langowski, Paul; Bowne, Elise; Calkin, Dave E., 2015. Development and application of a geospatial wildfire exposure and risk calculation tool
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Haas, Jessica R.; Finney, Mark A.; Calkin, Dave E.; Hand, Michael; Browne, Mark J.; Halek, Martin; Short, Karen C.; Grenfell, Isaac C., 2015. Development and application of a probabilistic method for wildfire suppression cost modeling
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Anderson, Nathaniel (Nate), 2015. Modeling fuel treatment impacts on fire suppression cost savings: A review
    Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Finney, Mark A., 2015. Negative consequences of positive feedbacks in US wildfire management
    Hand, Michael; Wibbenmeyer, Matthew J.; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2015. Risk preferences, probability weighting, and strategy tradeoffs in wildfire management
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Dunn, Christopher; Calkin, Dave E., 2015. Wildfires: Systemic changes required
    Stonesifer, Crystal S.; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Kaiden, Jeffrey D., 2014. Developing an aviation exposure index to inform risk-based fire management decisions
    Hand, Michael; Gebert, Krista M.; Liang, Jingjing; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Zhou, Mo, 2014. Economics of wildfire management: The development and application of suppression expenditure models
    Calkin, Dave E.; Stonesifer, Crystal S.; Thompson, Matthew P.; McHugh, Charles W., 2014. Large airtanker use and outcomes in suppressing wildland fires in the United States
    Tillery, Anne C.; Haas, Jessica R.; Miller, Lara W.; Scott, Joe H.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2014. Potential postwildfire debris-flow hazards - a prewildfire evaluation for the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and surrounding areas, central New Mexico
    Haas, Jessica R.; Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2014. Wildfire risk transmission in the Colorado Front Range, USA
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Scott, Joe; Kaiden, Jeffrey D.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W., 2013. A polygon-based modeling approach to assess exposure of resources and assets to wildfire
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Finney, Mark A.; Gebert, Krista M.; Hand, Michael, 2013. A risk-based approach to wildland fire budgetary planning
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Scott, Joe; Langowski, Paul G.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Haas, Jessica R.; Bowne, Elise M., 2013. Assessing watershed-wildfire risks on National Forest System lands in the Rocky Mountain Region of the United States
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Stonesifer, Crystal S.; Seli, Robert C.; Hovorka, Marlena, 2013. Developing standardized strategic response categories for fire management units
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Hand, Michael; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Vaillant, Nicole M.; Nalle, Darek J., 2013. Hazardous fuel treatments, suppression cost impacts, and risk mitigation
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Vaillant, Nicole M.; Haas, Jessica R.; Gebert, Krista M.; Stockmann, Keith D., 2013. Quantifying the potential impacts of fuel treatments on wildfire suppression costs
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Vaillant, Nicole M.; Haas, Jessica R.; Gebert, Krista M.; Stockmann, Keith D., 2013. Quantifying the potential impacts of fuel treatments on wildfire suppression costs volume
    Wibbenmeyer, Matthew J.; Hand, Michael; Calkin, Dave E.; Venn, Tyron J.; Thompson, Matthew P., 2013. Risk preferences in strategic wildfire decision making: A choice experiment with U.S. wildfire managers
    Warziniack, Travis; Thompson, Matthew P., 2013. Wildfire risk and optimal investments in watershed protection
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, David E.; Herynk, Jason; McHugh, Charles W.; Short, Karen C., 2012. Airtankers and wildfire management in the US Forest Service: examining data availability and exploring usage and cost trends
    Calkin, Dave E.; Venn, Tyron; Wibbenmeyer, Matthew; Thompson, Matthew P., 2012. Estimating US federal wildland fire managers' preferences toward competing strategic suppression objectives
    Scott, Joe; Helmbrecht, Don; Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Marcille, Kate, 2012. Probabilistic assessment of wildfire hazard and municipal watershed exposure
    Marcot, Bruce G.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Runge, Michael C.; Thompson, Frank R.; McNulty, Steven; Cleaves, David; Tomosy, Monica; Fisher, Larry A.; Bliss, Andrew, 2012. Recent advances in applying decision science to managing national forests
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Ager, Alan A.; Finney, Mark A.; Calkin, Dave E.; Vaillant, Nicole M., 2012. The science and opportunity of wildfire risk assessment (Chapter 6)
    Malcolm, Karl; Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Finney, Mark A.; Ager, Alan, 2012. Wildfire triage: Targeting mitigation based on social, economic, and ecological values
    Calkin, David E.; Ager, Alan; Thompson, Matthew P.; Finney, Mark A.; Lee, Danny C.; Quigley, Thomas M.; McHugh, Charles W.; Riley, Karin; Gilbertson-Day, Julie M., 2011. A comparative risk assessment framework for wildland fire management: the 2010 cohesive strategy science report
    Calkin, Dave E.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Finney, Mark A.; Hyde, Kevin D., 2011. A real-time risk assessment tool supporting wildland fire decisionmaking
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Ager, Alan A., 2011. Advancing effects analysis for integrated, large-scale wildfire risk assessment
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Calkin, Dave E.; Finney, Mark A.; Ager, Alan A.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W., 2011. Integrated national-scale assessment of wildfire risk to human and ecological values
    Calkin, Dave E.; Finney, Mark A.; Ager, Alan A.; Thompson, Matthew P.; Gebert, Krista M., 2011. Progress towards and barriers to implementation of a risk framework for US federal wildland fire policy and decision making
    Calkin, Dave E.; Phipps, John; Holmes, Tom; Rieck, Jon; Thompson, Matthew P., 2011. The Exposure Index: Developing firefighter safety performance measures
    Thompson, Matthew P.; Sessions, John; Boston, Kevin; Skaugset, Arne; Tomberlin, David, 2010. Forest road erosion control using multiobjective optimization
    Firefighters in protective gear holding axes walk along the side of a road.
    As a science-based, data-driven agency, the Forest Service regularly conducts risk-based analysis to inform leadership and improve the overall health and safety of our firefighting community. This year these types of assessments are complicated by additional risks to firefighter health and workforce capacity posed by COVID-19. To better understand the risks posed by COVID-19 to fire suppression efforts, and to support risk-informed decision making, the COVID-19 Fire Modeling Team developed a model for the potential spread of the disease in fire camp under a range of scenarios. The model is not meant as a predictive tool, but rather offers the opportunity to test and explore the efficacy of different mitigation measures such as screening and social distancing. The results underscore the importance of deploying these risk mitigation measures. This research was published in the journal Fire in August 2020.  Additionally, the science was used to develop an incident specific decision support tool that can be used to improve situational awareness, track changing conditions and risk throughout the life of an incident, and most importantly identify factors within the scope of control and aid in determining mitigation measures to reduce or limit exposure. This is science that can help save lives.
    Mt. Jefferson, covered in snow, is highly visible behind a burned section of pine trees.
    A new tool developed through collaboration between RMRS and researchers at Oregon State University tracks treefall through time and may just save lives. Researchers found that snag hazard to fire responders decreased significantly 10-years post fire, but that in some areas, unsafe conditions could last as long as 35 years. Maps of snag hazard risk can be used by decision makers and fire responders to reduce exposure and improve the safety of wildfire response.
    Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists have developed a simulation system designed to estimate wildfire risk for Fire Planning Units (FPUs) across the conterminous United States. This research demonstrates a practical approach to using fire simulations at very broad scales for operational planning and ecological research. Findings are being used in national wildfire decision support applications such as the Forest Service and Department of Interior Hazardous Fuel Prioritization and Allocation System, and to create national maps of wildfire potential. 
    Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists affiliated with the National Fire Decision Support Center worked closely with the Agency's Western and Eastern Threat Centers to develop novel methods to assess wildfire risk to communities, watersheds, and wildlife habitat, and to developed, natural, and cultural resources.  
    The role of large airtankers (LATs) in fire suppression in the United States has been the source of debate and discussion in recent years. Using drop location data from 2010-2012 for the conterminous U.S., we linked retardant drops to fire occurrence and resource ordering records to identify whether LATs were used during initial attack, and if so, whether or not the fire was contained at the initial attack phase.
    One of the risks posed to fire response by COVID-19 is rapid outbreak of infection in a traditional large fire camp, where high-density living and working conditions, limited hygiene, and a transient workforce can create the ideal conditions for the spread of disease. In response, members of the USDA Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Team, along with experts in the fields of epidemiological modeling and fire operations, have prepared a dynamic report that models the potential for COVID-19 spread in fire camp. Results are intended to be illustrative rather than predictive, are designed to support identification of suitable and effective risk mitigation measures, and will be updated over time in response to new information.
    Using structured decision making (SDM) can change how resource managers make decisions by separating the clinical problem analysis from the value based decision process. In a natural resource management setting, SDM necessitates making decisions based on clearly articulated objectives, recognizing scientific prediction in decisions, addressing uncertainty explicitly, and responding with transparency towards societal values in decision making. When used as an overarching framework, natural resource managers can be better equipped to identify, critique, and discuss sources and implications of uncertainty and thus improve decision-making.
    Large wildfires are inherently more complex; often affecting multiple jurisdictions and requiring a balance of strategic long-term planning and nimble tactical solutions to meet dynamic conditions on the ground. With this increase in complexity comes increased uncertainty.
    The increasing complexity of the wildfire management environment has also created challenges for managing the exposure of wildfire responders to operational hazards. Firefighting is an inherently high-risk occupation and the fire environment is fraught with hazards that consistently cause injuries and fatalities each year. While some number of these hazards can be mitigated with improved safety equipment, communications, and safety protocols once responders are deployed. It is up to the fire command staff to determine, where and under what conditions the risk/benefit trade off of deploying boots on the ground makes sense.
    District and Forest Fire staff recently met with local cooperators and resource specialists to develop maps of potential control lines that they could use while managing a fire. Maps of control lines and potential operational delineations (PODs) are being developed for the entire Forest with the assistance of researchers from USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute.
    RMRS scientists and staff have started an intensive project with the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest, along with other cooperators such as Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, to develop a comprehensive plan for fire management on the forest. This project will rely on the Cohesive Strategy framework and will bring in many cooperators.
    Effective and efficient risk based management requires integrated knowledge, systems and planning tools that explore the interaction of the full range of land and fire management activities. The Wildfire Risk Management Team is working with managers to develop and demonstrate the power of integrating fire-risk science across the full range of fire management activities from local to national scales. Improved linkages between landscape fire potential and land management objectives will have profound effects on the efficiency of the full range of fire management activities. 
    Although wildfires are inevitable, the destruction of homes, ecosystems, and lives is not. How can land management agencies, first responders, and affected communities who face the inevitability of wildfires reduce the potential for loss? Decision science and risk management are key principles in the effort to lower wildfire risks. In concert with the spatial risk assessment framework, the Wildfire Risk Management Team is exploring how principles of risk management, and resiliency and structured decision making can be applied to improve the effectiveness and safety of fire management.
    Each year thousands of wildfires occur within the United States. Increased federal spending on large wildfire management has become a growing concern to Congress, to state and federal agencies, and to the public. The Wildfire Risk Management Team is undertaking a series of empirical studies from recent wildfires that track daily resource use, including aviation and ground-based fire suppression resources, to asses the effects of resource use on wildfire containment under a range of environmental conditions.
    Wildfire management involves significant complexity and uncertainty, requiring simultaneous consideration of multiple, non-commensurate objectives. There needs to exist a systems-level understanding of the fire management systems. The Wildfire Risk Management Team is examining the biases in perceiving and managing risk, and in particular how fire managers jointly consider wildfire probability contours, suppression strategy likelihood of success, and values at risk.