Climate change and wildfire risk in an expanding wildland–urban interface: a case study from the Colorado Front Range Corridor

Zhihua Liu, Michael C. Wimberly, Aashis Lamsal, Terry L. Sohl, Todd J. Hawbaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Context: Wildfire is a particular concern in the wildland–urban interface (WUI) of the western United States where human development occurs close to flammable natural vegetation. Objectives: (1) Assess the relative influences of WUI expansion versus climate-driven fire regime change on spatial and temporal patterns of burned WUI, and (2) determine whether WUI developed in the future will have higher or lower wildfire risk than existing WUI. Methods: We projected the spatial pattern of the WUI and its associated wildfire risk from 2005 to 2050 at 90-m spatial resolution and 5-year intervals in Colorado Front Range using CHANGE, a landscape change model that simulates land cover and land use change, natural vegetation dynamics, and wildfire in a unified framework. A total of four scenarios from a factorial design with static versus changing WUI and static versus changing fire regimes were simulated to examine the effects of WUI expansion and climate-driven fire regime change on burned area in the WUI. Results: Both WUI expansion and fire regime change contributed to the increase of burned WUI, but fire regime change had a stronger influence. The effects of WUI expansion and fire regime change had a combined influence greater than the sum of their individual effects. This interaction was a result of projected WUI expansion into regions of higher wildfire risk than existing WUI. Conclusions: The human footprint will continue to expand into wildland areas and must be considered along with climate effects when assessing the impacts of changing fire regimes in future landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1943-1957
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape Ecology
Volume30
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Keywords

  • Coupled human and natural systems
  • Disturbance
  • Land cover
  • Land use
  • Social–ecological systems
  • Western United States

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