The Wildland-Urban Interface and Rebuilding after Wildfire

December 12, 2017

Wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas — where houses and other development meet or mix with undeveloped natural areas — are places of transition and change. Residential development removes or fragments the very wildland vegetation that often attracted homeowners, and wildfires are increasingly costly and difficult to manage in WUI areas where buildings are mixed into forests or grasslands.

Attendees learned about a new data set that provides the first high-resolution data on WUI change from 1990 to 2010, revealing how housing growth and wildland vegetation have combined over time and the implications this has for local land-use policy and wildfire management. Analysis of this data reveals rapid growth of the WUI over this period — this new WUI area of 189,000 km2 is an area larger than Washington State.

The expansion of the WUI poses challenges for wildfire management, creating more buildings at risk to wildfire in environments where firefighting is often difficult. However, estimates of WUI growth, combined with research on rebuilding and recovery after wildfire, suggest that this type of growth is unlikely to diminish in the face of wildfire threats.

Studies of post-fire recovery demonstrate that rebuilding and new development is often extensive after wildfire, and that destructive fire rarely spurs widespread changes in local land-use policies to reduce future hazard exposure.

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PDF of PowerPoint presentation (pdf)


Miranda Mockrin, PhD

Miranda Mockrin is a research scientist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, Baltimore, who studies conservation and land use, combining ecological and social science. She earned a doctoral degree in ecology from Columbia University. Much of her current research focuses on residential development and implications for forests, including mapping the growth of the wildland-urban interface (WUI) over time, examining recovery and adaptation after wildfire, and studying the effects of forest conservation and residential development policies, such as conservation development.