Growth of the wildland-urban interface within and around U.S. National Forests and Grasslands, 1990–2010

TitleGrowth of the wildland-urban interface within and around U.S. National Forests and Grasslands, 1990–2010
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsMockrin, MH, Helmers, D, Martinuzzi, S, Hawbaker, TJ, Radeloff, VC
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Date Published11/2021
KeywordsHousing, public lands, Residential development, sprawl, technical reports and journal articles, WUI

The wildland-urban interface (WUI), where housing is in close proximity to or intermingled with wildland vegetation, is widespread throughout the United States, but it is unclear how this type of housing development affects public lands. We used a national dataset to examine WUI distribution and growth (1990–2010) in proximity to National Forests and created a typology to characterize each National Forest’s combination of WUI area and housing growth. We found that National Forests are hotspots for WUI growth, with a 38% increase in WUI area and 46% growth in WUI houses from 1990 to 2010, in excess of WUI growth for the conterminous U.S. Growth within National Forests was higher than the surrounding area. Diffuse intermix WUI, where houses are intermingled with wildland vegetation, is common within National Forests, but WUI houses around National Forests were primarily in denser interface WUI areas, which lack substantial wildland vegetation. WUI was more prevalent within and around National Forests in the East, while National Forests in the West experienced higher rates of WUI growth. National Forests with the most challenging WUI issues—extensive WUI area and rapid growth in intermix and interface—were found primarily in the South and interior West. Given the diversity of WUI landscapes, effectively responding to current and future WUI challenges will require both engagement with individual homeowners dispersed throughout National Forests, as well as increased emphasis on mitigating denser interface development around National Forests. At a time when wildfire risks are expected to intensify due to climate change, and 75% of privately owned land within and around National Forests is not yet WUI, understanding WUI growth patterns in proximity to public lands is vital for land management and human well-being.