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Potential for Future Development on Fire-Prone Lands

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Most studies of wildland fire and residential development have focused on the cost of firefighting and solutions such as fuel reduction and fire-safe home building. Although some studies quantify the number of homes being built near forests, little research has indicated the potential magnitude of the problem in the future. This article presents data illustrating this emerging problem for western communities. Our analysis takes a long view, looking at the potential for more home construction next to public forests and implications for future wildfire fighting costs. In a study of 11 western states, we found that only 14% of the available “wildland interface” in the West is currently developed, leaving great potential for new home construction in the remaining 86%. If just one-half of the wildland interface is developed in the future, annual firefighting costs could escalate to $4.3 billion. By comparison, the Forest Service's annual budget is about $4.5 billion.
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Keywords: forest fire; residential development; wildfire; wildland–urban interface

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-06-01

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  • The Journal of Forestry is the most widely circulated scholarly forestry journal in the world. In print since 1902, the Journal has received several national awards for excellence. The mission of the Journal of Forestry is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry: economics, education and communication, entomology and pathology, fire, forest ecology, geospatial technologies, history, international forestry, measurements, policy, recreation, silviculture, social sciences, soils and hydrology, urban and community forestry, utilization and engineering, and wildlife management. The Journal is published bimonthly: January, March, May, July, September, and November.

    2016 Impact Factor: 1.675 (Rank 20/64 in forestry)

    Average time from submission to first decision: 39.6 days*
    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

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