The Wildland Urban Interface and the National Forests of East Texas


  • Michael A. Schuett
  • Jiaying Lu
  • Darrell Fannin
  • Gillian Bowser


wildland urban interface, population change, recreation participation, national forests


Over the last decade, population growth and housing developments near public lands have become an important concern for managers and decision makers (Dwyer & Childs, 2004). Increased housing density may have negative ecological and social impacts on wildlife, vegetation, or recreation near public lands. A wildland urban interface (WUI) is an area where houses meet or intermingle with wildland vegetation. Across the United States, urban sprawl has led to the growth of many WUI areas, especially in the southern part of the country. In Texas, the WUI areas are near national forest lands. These population shifts in and around the WUI have set the stage for increased visitation to the national forests of Texas. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to document population change and profile residents in the national forests and WUI areas of east Texas. The study objectives were to: (1) show population change and housing density using spatial data, (2) report on residents’ recreation participation and attitudes toward natural resources, and (3) discuss the management implications of the WUI and future national forest use. Several secondary data sources were used for this study. Data from University of Wisconsin graphically displayed the WUI for east Texas. Using U.S. Census data, population change from 1990 and 2000 showed considerable differences in the counties of the WUI (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). The 2000 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) from the USDA Forest Service documented activity participation and attitudes toward national forest management. The combined results indicate that the population and the wildland urban interface are dramatically changing in this area. Increased housing density near national forests is creating WUI areas in East Texas, hence more potential visitors to the forests. Urban sprawl from Houston to the surrounding counties has had a ripple effect on the population of adjacent counties as well. An increase in the Hispanic population has dominated the population changes in the WUI and outlying counties. NSRE data show active recreation participants in areas near the national forests. Participation is high with several activities such as walking for pleasure, family gatherings, and more passive recreation such as viewing scenery or driving for pleasure. In terms of residents’ attitudes about national forest management, respondents felt that maintaining the forests for future generations is important, along with protecting its assets, streams, and natural habitat. National forest managers may want to learn more about the population changes that are occurring outside the forest borders as recreation use by more diverse groups could expand. Managers will also be challenged to educate a public that may not be used to living near national forests. Future research should focus on identifying the recreation needs of current/potential visitors and examining ways to share information about the environment with local residents.