Photo of Karen Lee Abt

Karen Lee Abt

Research Economist
Forestry Sciences Laboratory, P.O. Box 12254
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
Phone: 919-549-4094

Current Research

I work primarily in in two areas these days—bioenergy and wildfire economics.

More specifically, I lead a team that develops forecasts of wildland fire suppression expenditures for the USDA Forest Service and for the DOI land management agencies. We develop forecasts for multiple time horizons, running from 10 years ahead (a simple, time series model with good fit but high uncertainty model) to two months ahead (a more complex, climate and weather based model with greater certainty).

In bioenergy economics, I evaluate the effects of various national and international policies on sustainability, climate change, and renewable energy, on the forests of the U.S. South using simulation partial-equilibrium models of timber supply and demand coupled with resource management models to track forest trends.

Featured Publications and Products


Research Highlights

Federal land management agencies should expect to spend more on wildfires as global temperatures increase due to climate change (2017)
SRS-2017-160 Wildfires are expected to become larger, more frequent, and more intense in the future. Wildfire suppression costs also are expected to rise, according to a recent report to the Executive Office of the President that included input fromForest Service scientists. Of the three expenditures examined in the report, wildfire spending was expected to increase more than federal spending on crop protection, but less than spending on coastal flooding.

Helping federal agencies manage fire budgets (2011)
Budgeting for wildfire suppression is increasingly difficult for federal for the Forest Service and Department of the Interior. In the past, fire suppression activities were often funded at the expense of other agency programs. The FLAME Act of 2009, which provides funding for wildfire suppression, also presents the challenge of accurately estimating fire suppression costs as far as 3 years out. Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists are improving tools to make the estimates needed for FLAME Act funding.

Interagency Research Collaboration FInds That Tribal Fire Prevention Has Large Benefits (2015)
SRS-2015-227 Humans cause more than 55 percent of wildfires on lands managed by the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior, contributing to both suppression expenditures and damages. Forest Service scientists and their partners quantified the efficacy of wildfire prevention programs on Native American tribal lands in the United States. Fire prevention and law enforcement efforts have led to reductions in expenditures on fire suppression that are 4.5 to more than 38 times than the total cost of the prevention program.

Renewable Energy Policies in the European Union Influencing Timber Markets and Forests in the Southern U.S. (2015)
SRS-2015-226 Forest Service scientists Karen Abt and Ken Skog, with their university collaborators, evaluated the status and outlook of the export of wood pellets from the southern U.S. The primary driver of the pellet demand is the Renewable Energy Directive of the European Union and wood pellets made in the southern U.S. are being shipped to the European Union for burning to generate energy in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase renewable energy use. Both softwood and hardwood pulpwood are being used to make pellets, leading to increased pulpwood harvests and prices.

Understanding the Effects of Increased Use of Wood Energy on Timber and Wood Product Markets (2019)
SRS-2019-46 The development of new markets for wood products has potentially important impacts on the American public and taxpayers: competition with existing industries could increase or decrease outputs and potentially increase income to forest landowners, making forests more profitable and thus retained as forestland. This study helps better understand such impacts on wood products markets and the use and management of forest resources.?

R&D Affiliations
External Resources