Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The wildland-urban interface in the United States based on 125 million building locations

March 27, 2022

The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is the focus of many important land management issues, such as wildfire, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and human-wildlife conflicts. Wildfire is an especially critical issue, because housing growth in the WUI increases wildfire ignitions and the number of homes at risk. Identifying the WUI is important for assessing and mitigating impacts of development on wildlands and for protecting homes from natural hazards, but data on housing development for large areas are often coarse. We created new WUI maps for the conterminous U.S. based on 125 million individual building locations, offering higher spatial precision compared to existing maps based on U.S. census housing data. Building point locations were based on a building footprint dataset from Microsoft®. We classified WUI across the conterminous U.S. at 30-m resolution using a circular neighborhood mapping algorithm with a variable radius to determine thresholds of housing density and vegetation cover. We used our maps to (1) determine the total area of the WUI and number of buildings included, (2) assess the sensitivity of WUI area included and spatial pattern of WUI maps to choice of neighborhood size, (3) assess regional differences between building-based WUI maps and census-based WUI maps, and (4) determine how building location accuracy affected WUI map accuracy. Our building-based WUI maps identified 5.6% – 18.8% of the conterminous U.S. as being in the WUI, with larger neighborhoods increasing WUI area but excluding isolated building clusters. Building-based maps identified more WUI area relative to census-based maps for all but the smallest neighborhoods, particularly in the north-central states, and large differences were attributable to high numbers of non-housing structures in rural areas. Overall WUI classification accuracy was 98.0%. For wildfire risk mapping and for general purposes, WUI maps based on the 500-m neighborhood represent the original Federal Register definition of the WUI; these maps include clusters of buildings in and adjacent to wildlands and exclude remote, isolated buildings. Our approach for mapping the WUI offers flexibility and high spatial detail, and can be widely applied to take advantage of the growing availability of high-resolution building footprint datasets and classification methods.