America's Forests
1999 Health UpdateOverview MapIntroduction
Issues and Examples of Forest Ecosystem Health Concerns
III. Wildland/Urban Interface

Historically, aggressive and effective wildfire suppression has resulted in increased undergrowth and density of trees, creating high levels of fuels. These conditions pose increasing risks to human health, safety, and property, especially in areas that are commonly referred to as the “wildland/urban interface.” Fires in these areas are harder to control and are more costly than fires in wildlands. The USDA Forest Service has begun to address this problem by developing risk maps to identify areas at high risk and increasing the number of acres treated to reduce excessive fuel levels, especially in the wildland/urban interface. State and local partners play a key role in coordinated solutions in fire-prone wildland/urban interface areas.

Examples

The Winniger Ridge Ecosystem Management and Restoration Project—Nearly 100 years of successful fire suppression activities in the mountains of Boulder County, Colorado, have resulted in contiguous, densely stocked forests that are highly susceptible to insects, diseases, and wildfire. This ecosystem encompasses approximately 40,000 acres (50 square miles) of intermixed lands in public and private ownerships. Tree mortality from insects, diseases, and other natural causes—such as snow storms—increased fuel buildup and the risk of catastrophic fires.

The USDA Forest Service is 1 of 22 partners trying to reduce the potential for catastrophic insect, disease, and wildfire events while improving overall ecosystem health on all ownerships. To address this problem, a full range of tools is being used—including timber sales, thinning, and wildlife habitat treatments, as well as mechanical and prescribed fire treatments. New contracting authorities and administrative processes are being tested. Promising outcomes include reducing fire hazard and providing nontraditional wood products to improve the economy of local communities.

Oak Wilt in Texas—Live oaks, the most common and prized trees in central Texas, continue to sustain serious losses due to oak wilt disease. With the USDA Forest Service’s contributions of funding and technical assistance, the State of Texas Forest Service is addressing the problem through the Cooperative Oak Wilt Suppression Project. Local governments and private citizens have combined forces to detect and control thousands of oak wilt infection centers. Oak wilt has been identified in 55 counties in central Texas and 6 counties in west Texas. The disease spreads through interconnected root systems at rates up to 100 feet per year. To stop the spread of individual infection centers, the cooperators have installed more than 400 miles of barrier trenches. On average, 70 percent of the trenches have successfully halted expansion of the oak wilt centers. In addition, several hundred infected red oaks are removed annually to reduce long-distance spread of the oak wilt fungus by insects. Another part of the project involves public awareness and education on how to manage and control the disease on privately owned lands. The $7.5 million investment in the oak wilt project has saved central Texas communities an estimated $45 million in tree removal and replanting costs.

Oak wilt disease kills oak trees in Texas
 
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