Frequently Asked Questions

What are some key wildland-urban interface issues?

• Demographic changes: People are living longer, migrating from one region of the US to another, and immigrating from abroad, making us much more diverse as a country than at any other time in our history.
• Diverse public attitudes and perceptions: As our population ages and becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse, public attitudes, perceptions, and values undergo change. One change is that forest ecosystems are increasingly valued more for the services they provide, such as clean water, beauty, and inspiration, than for the direct economic benefits that can be derived from them.
• Land use planning and policy: A major factor contributing to interface problems across the South include a lack of vision and little or no planning and regional coordination for comprehensive growth management. Current land-use policies are difficult to implement across federal, state, and local jurisdictions, which often overlap and result in conflicting land-use decisions.
• Economic and taxation issues: As cities grow, more people prefer to develop in the interface for lower property taxes and a natural setting. But as more people move to the interface, land values and property taxes rise, forcing some large landowners to subdivide or move.
• Land-use change: As development increases, forests are continually being fragmented into smaller patches that are surrounded by nonforest land uses including residential developments. Based on the current trends of urbanization across the South, it is likely that forested habitats will continue to be permanently altered and the amount of available wildlife habitat will decrease in some areas.
• Changes to ecosystems: The most obvious direct influence of human activities on forests is the reduction of total forest area and fragmentation. Human influences indirectly alter forest ecosystems by modifying hydrology, altering nutrient cycling, introducing non-native species, modifying disturbance regime, and changing atmospheric conditions.
• Risks from increased human influences: Important risks associated with urbanization include changes in the frequency, severity, and types of natural disturbance regimes, such as fires, floods and winds.
• Lack of public education about natural resource issues: Focus group participants believe the public undervalues the contribution of natural resources to our health and well-being. People in general need to better understand the relationship between human activities and consequences to the environment.
• Challenges of managing natural resources: Surveys of landowner objectives increasingly find that preserving aesthetics, and recreational uses, rank higher than timber management and harvesting, creating new challenges for natural resource professionals as they balance public values with landowner wishes.

How are WUI forests different from rural forests?

While rural forests are secluded from the effects of urbanization and development, WUI forests are directly influenced, with development located in the vicinity of contiguous vegetation. Forests that are embedded in urban landscapes differ environmentally, compositionally, and structurally from rural forests. They are more susceptible to external stresses, such as compaction of soil and physical damages; invasive plants; higher temperatures, which cause changes in microclimate; and exclusion of natural fire regimes. These stresses change forest composition, structure, and consequently function of these ecosystems, causing problems with certain diseases, insects and the general health of the ecosystem. There is a reduction of total forest area and an increase in fragmentation of the remaining parcels in the WUI. Fire issues in the interface pose a new set of problems as a result of the proximity to development, and attract a large amount of public attention. Rural areas rarely get the amount of media attention and public interest that WUI forests receive.

What are some of the main influences of urbanization in the WUI?

The direct influence of urbanization and other human activities on forests is the reduction of total forest area and fragmentation of remaining forest parcels. Human influences indirectly alter forest ecosystems by modifying hydrology, altering nutrient cycling, introducing non-native species, modifying disturbance regime, and changing atmospheric conditions. These changes significantly affect forest health and modify the goods and services provided by forest ecosystems.

Fragmentation of forests alters the biological diversity of native plants and animals by reducing the size of habitats and isolating plant and animal populations. Wildlife species differ in their response to fragmentation and habitat loss and degradation—some are habitat generalists and have adapted to the edge habitats where they thrive, while those that have specialized habitat requirements have not fared as well. A few non-native species, including plants, animals and pathogens that have been introduced into native ecosystems as a result of urbanization and agriculture have caused great harm.

Urbanization alters water flows in the interface and significantly affects aquatic habitats. Besides increasing impervious surfaces, urbanization also channelizes streams, drains wetlands, and increases the amount of pesticides and nutrients found in streams. Key issues related to ecosystem changes include air quality, water quantity and quality, wildlife habitat, species composition, biodiversity, and soil quality. Resource professionals are concerned with how to maintain the critical goods and services that forest ecosystems provide humans, such as recreation, climate regulation, beauty and inspiration. These benefits of forested ecosystems are increasingly valued over traditional forest products.

Why should natural resource professionals focus on wildland-urban interface issues?

There are many reasons, some of which are:
(1) The South is undergoing tremendous change -- land-use change, population pressures, demographic shifts, and much more -- with no end in sight. These changes are having and will continue to have dramatic effects on the sustainability of forests and other natural areas. They will affect the ability of natural resource professionals to manage forests and other natural areas for critical ecosystem goods, services, and benefits;
(2) Urbanization alters natural disturbance regimes, increasing the risk of natural disasters such as catastrophic fires and floods, which consequently compromises public health and safety. Natural resource professionals have the opportunity to help maximize the ecosystem goods and services while minimizing the risks of urbanization; and
(3) Interface and urban areas are where the majority of the population lives; hence interface and urban constituencies will have the greatest impact on national and state policies affecting natural resources and the management of public lands.

What is the wildland-urban interface?

The term wildland-urban interface often conjures up images of a sharp delineation between developed and undeveloped lands. It is also commonly thought of as areas where development occurs within forests, places where built structures intermix with natural areas. The wildland-urban interface, however, must be thought of in much broader terms. The interface involves areas of mixed ownerships and multiple jurisdictions, resulting in an array of political, social, and economic challenges that must be taken into account when defining the interface



What are some of the main social issues in the WUI?

Demographic changes are leading to much more diverse public attitudes and perceptions, which alter the way forests are used. Increased life expectancy, migration throughout the US and immigration from abroad are making us more diverse as a country than ever before. Statistics reveal that the South’s population is projected to increase by 24 percent by 2020. In the 1990s, non-Hispanic whites made up 72 percent of the South’s population. Of minority populations, Hispanics made up 9 percent, African Americans 17 percent, and Asian and other races just over 2 percent. By 2020, Hispanics are expected to account for about 16 percent of the population, African Americans 20 percent, and Asians and others 3 percent. Non-Hispanic whites will drop to about 61 percent.

As the population becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse, public attitudes, perceptions, and values undergo change. For example, forest ecosystems previously valued for their direct economic benefits are now increasingly valued for the services they provide, such as beauty, clean water, and inspiration. These public attitudes influence how forests and natural resources will be used and managed. Other issues include varied attitudes about private property rights.