Every year, thousands of homeowners relocate to properties that abut wilderness areas.
If you were to ask any of them to describe where they live, they’d probably give you the name of their town. Or they may say they live in the foothills of a particular mountain range. They most likely would not say they live in the “wildland urban interface” (WUI).
And yet, that is exactly where they live.
They are part of a growing population that seeks refuge in and near forests and other natural areas — not for recreation, but for residence. Many are escaping the hustle and bustle of city life. The natural beauty of the landscape, however, can mask a wide range of potential threats.
The greatest of these, of course, is wildfire. Most new residents don’t realize they’ve chosen to live in an environment that thrives on periodic wildfire. And, of course, the increased population in the WUI brings with it an increase in human-caused wildfire. These fires threaten not only their homes, but their very lives and the lives of firefighters.
But wildland fire is not the only threat. Human encroachment into wilderness areas also brings increased risk of invasive species and disruption of wildlife and ecosystems.
The destruction of wildlife habitats is a leading cause of species endangerment. As urban and suburban land use expands, wildlife habitats and accessible food sources shrink. As a result, conflicts between humans and wildlife occur. Alligators become a more frequent sight in Florida backyards, and deer pose an increasing threat to motorists just about everywhere.
Human encroachment results in both wildlife habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation is the breakup of an intact, contiguous habitat into smaller fragments. According to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the biggest contribution to fragmentation in the WUI is the development of road networks that accompany and often precede human settlement in these areas.
As a result, larger, more concentrated housing developments within the WUI actually have a smaller impact on habitat fragmentation than multiple, smaller developments or individual scattered residences, because they require fewer accessible roads.
The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has identified invasive species as one of the four critical threats to our nation’s forests and grasslands.There are two ways that human activity within the WUI causes invasive plant species to flourish.
If you reside within the WUI, you can significantly minimize your ecological footprint by using only native species in your landscaping.
Do you live in the wildland urban interface? Then you have assumed the risk and responsibility to protect your family, home, property and surrounding environment from wildfire. It is not reasonable to expect firefighters to risk their lives to protect a home where the owner has not also done his part.
At the very least, every homeowner in the WUI is responsible for creating a fire-resistant buffer and providing for safe access to the property.
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Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to strip your property to bare ground. Rather, remove or thin only that vegetative material that can threaten your home. (See “Firewise Checklist,” below.)
Establishing a wildfire protective buffer not only provides a beautifully landscaped property that harmonizes with the surrounding environment. It also improves the overall health of the forest or rangeland, and may even reduce your insurance premiums.
According to High Country Resource Conservation and Development, you can increase the chances of your home and property surviving a wildfire by 90% to 95% simply by applying the following “firewise” principles:
Remember: More than your home, property, and personal belongings is at risk. Your neighbors’ homes and the natural environment we all enjoy are also in danger of being destroyed by wildfire. As a responsible homeowner living in the wildland urban interface, why not take the extra step of protection provided by the Frontline Wildfire Defense system?