Growth of the wildland-urban interface and its spatial determinants in the Polish Carpathians

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The Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) is the area where natural vegetation is close to housing and area of concern due to various negative consequences for humans and the environment including fire ignitions, landscape fragmentation and human-wildlife interactions. The WUI is a global phenomenon, and widespread in many countries but long-term WUI dynamics and the main factors causing WUI growth are unknown. Our goal was to assess WUI changes in the Polish Carpathians since the mid-19th century, based on high-resolution spatial data for 1860s, 1970s and 2013. We found that WUI covered already 30% of the study area in the 1860s but grew to cover nearly half by 2013, especially at lower elevations. Detailed analysis of WUI determinants confirmed the areas closer to regional administrative centres or located on steep slopes were more WUI-prone. Tourist trail density also fostered WUI occurrence. We conclude that in Central Europe, with a long history of human settlements and agricultural activities, WUI has been a persistent landscape feature for centuries, but increased in area in recent decades due to widespread abandonment of agricultural land combined with development of new residential areas.