Living in the Wildland Urban Interface

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Living in the Wildland Urban Interface

Natural Beauty of Wildland Urban Interface
Masks Potential Threats

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.

Did You Know…
More than 50 percent of the U.S. Forest Service budget is allocated to fighting wildfires?

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.

Avoiding Deer Collisions

Attentive driving is the best deterrent for such collisions with deer.

Also, use high-beam headlights as much as possible to illuminate deer hiding on the side of the road.

Do not rely on car-mounted “deer whistles,” which studies show to be ineffective.

If a collision with a deer is unavoidable, try not to swerve, which could cause you to lose control of your vehicle and increase the risk of injury.

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.

Habitat Encroachment

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.

Invasive Species

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.

  1. By creating areas of higher light availability which provides a competitive advantage to non-native species that are better adapted to these conditions.
  2. Through the active introduction of non-native plant species, the seeds of which are then dispersed naturally (via wind or birds) or artificially (via vehicles or the dumping of garden waste).

If you reside within the WUI, you can significantly minimize your ecological footprint by using only native species in your landscaping.

If You Live in the WUI

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:

Firewise Checklist

  • Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. This prevents embers from igniting your home.
  • Remove dead vegetation from under your deck and within 10 feet of the house.
  • Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.
  • Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
  • Remove flammable materials (firewood stacks, propane tanks, dry vegetation) within 30 feet of your home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.
  • Wildfire can spread to tree tops. If you have trees on your property, prune so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground.
  • Keep your lawn hydrated and maintained. If it is brown, cut it down to reduce fire intensity. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire.
  • Don’t let debris and lawn cuttings linger. Dispose of these items quickly to reduce fuel for fire.
  • Inspect shingles or roof tiles. Replace or repair those that are loose or missing to prevent ember penetration.
  • Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh no larger than 1/8 inch to prevent sparks from entering the home.
  • Enclose under-eave and soffit vents or screen with metal mesh to prevent ember entry.

Take the Extra Step

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?


Featured Image: Creative Commons Photo by USFS, Pacific Southwest Region 5

American Institute of Biological Sciences


U.S. Forest Service

High Country Resource Conservation and Development

Earth Online Media