People and fire at Florida's wildland-urban interface

A study from the recently published Proceedings of the Eleventh Biennial Southern Silviculture Research Conference illustrates some of the problems related to prescribed burning in an increasingly populated fire-prone landscape.

Conducted by Forest Service researchers David Butry, John Pye and Jeffrey Prestemon from the Southern Research Station Economics of Forest Protection and Management unit in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, the study describes Floridas wildland-urban interface as a complex mix of people, development and wildlands.

We wanted to understand the relationships between the places where wildfires and prescribed fires occur and the types of people living in them, said Butry. With a diverse and growing population scattered across a landscape that frequently burns, Florida provides an excellent study area.

With an estimated 16 million inhabitants in 2000, Florida is the fourth most populous state in the USand a place where prescribed fire is used extensively to manage forests and to prevent wildfires. A large portion of the states population are retirees, immigrants or migrants from other climates, and are not accustomed to living near fire. This unfamiliarity, combined with pockets of dense population, may limit the use of prescribed burning in some areas and result in greater risks of wildfires.

The researchers used GIS overlay and correlation techniques to examine fire-affected zones in Florida, comparing demographics, road density, neighborhood forest stand attributes, forest fragmentation, and wildfire frequency. They found the most intense areas of prescribed burning in the north central and panhandle regions of Florida, while wildfire occurred more evenly throughout the state, with the heaviest concentration in the southwest.

On the average, we found that the people living in areas where fire is more common are more likely to be Caucasian, older, less educated and earning less income than those liv

Contact: David Butry
Southern Research Station - USDA Forest Service

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