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date: 23 October 2018

Interface Urban Forest Management in an Urbanizing Landscape

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Economic development, technological change, and urbanization are typically identified as important drivers of land use change. Yet, land use change entails important environmental and socioeconomic consequences, namely by affecting the processes and functions of ecosystems, and, therefore, the provision of their services.

Urbanization comprises residential, commercial, industrial, and highway-related development. At the edge of this built environment is the urban-wildland interface (UWI), which has been the focus of environmental policies in several parts of the world. The reason rests on the fact that urban development at the UWI is linked to significant environmental damages, including air and water pollution, habitat destruction, landscape fragmentation, increased runoff, and wildfire risk, among others. These effects can reduce biological diversity and, furthermore, some of the ecosystem services (ES) can be irreversibly lost.

Though forests located nearby urban areas are a small fraction of the forest cover, a better understanding of the extent to which UWI forest conversion affects local economies and environmental services can help policymakers harmonizing urban development and environmental preservation at the UWI, with positive impact on the welfare of local communities.

The main income from most forest holdings at the UWI depends on wood production. However, forests and forestry practices also contribute to climate change mitigation. Yet, the public good nature of most forest ES distorts the forest market price below its social value. As a result, as development pressure increases, it is expected that interface traditional timber management practices become a transitional use as conversion to other valuable land use, such as residential use, occurs in the future and, the UWI open space is undervalued. This, in turn, raises concern given the current increasing trend of forestland conversion at the UWI.

Moreover, the value of developable land held by a private forest owner derives both from the returns from the current use (timber production) and from the expected returns from future urban uses. Given that the decision to convert is conditional on the relative magnitude and timing of the returns of the two alternative uses, decision-making at the UWI must reflect the factors that influence both, that is, urban (e.g., residential rents and switching costs) and forestry-related factors (e.g., stumpage prices and regeneration costs), when considering the optimal rotation periods and conversion dates. Accounting for the urban influences on UWI forestland practices is thus very important, because a growing population and increasingly land consumptive development patterns will require more effective policies and programs to stem the tide of urban sprawl seen in several municipalities worldwide.