Baltimore Ecosystem Study Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2011 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Recalculating the WUI to strengthen Ecological Vulnerability Planning in the Urban-Rural Transition Zone
Howard, Holli
Co-Authors: Holli Howard

Abstract: Urbanization has created a complex transition zone between city centers and rural towns resulting in a significant increase of ecological stressors. The September, 2011 issue of Scientific American warns that the existing metropolitan framework will not sustain the continuing influx of residents without dramatic change in urban development. A key piece in this process is how to define ‘urban’ and these ‘transition’ zones. The Census delineates boundaries using population density and National Land Cover Dataset(NLCD) impervious surface. The Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), widely used in fire risk management to determine where homes and natural areas coexist, uses housing density and NLCD vegetation. The NLCD is based on Landsat TM imagery, often used at a large scale and cited as not having enough spatial detail to provide urban planning solutions. Hence, the current definitions don’t reflect the heterogeneity of metropolitan land cover or human component. This project examines the Census and WUI methods, uses them by comparison and builds on that knowledge to generate a land ‘urbanization rating’. Other documented resources focusing on the complexity of this ‘transition zone’ will be integrated including patch dynamics from the HERCULES land cover system, green infrastructure, the built environment and social characteristics. High-resolution imagery, more suitable for urban scale analysis will be applied. Beginning with a focus on Baltimore County, this ‘urbanization rating’ will, in effect, create a WUI for metropolitan areas by determining if a specific area of interest, such as watershed or block group, would be designated urban, transition zone or rural. Additionally an image resolution assessment will be completed to determine a critical threshold for using high-low resolution imagery based on the results of a comparison of urban, rural and transition areas at the 1m and 30m scale.