The almost non-stop catastrophic conflagrations in California, and continuing wildlife conflicts in many areas around the United States are two reasons to re-think what has become known as the wildland-urban interface. The desire of some people to live in wild areas without assuming any of the risks inherent in such locations is going to bankrupt many jurisdictions if trends continue.
Furthermore, entire ecosystems could be permanently compromised as fires, mudslides, and other natural disasters leave few if any pockets of intact forest as refugia for wildlife. Healthy forests are a spectrum of habitats from meadows with a few seedling trees to old growth stands of ancient conifers. Forests periodically change through low grade fires that burn out understory vegetation without becoming crown fires that devastate mature trees. Browsing by deer and the herbivorous activities of insects also effect the structure of forests. Changes in ecosystems from meadows to mature forests represent the phenomenon of "succession," but it is very much a non-linear process. It is cyclical, and interruptions can happen at any stage.
Construction of human habitations fragments forests, taking parcels out of succession entirely, and permanently. Even after horrendous wildfires, we vow to rebuild. We are told to mitigate future fires by de-vegetating wide swaths around buildings. Sure, this protects our private property, but the public domain surrounding you is also compromised by having a reduction in the geographic continuity forest ecosystems. The result is islands of natural forest in a sea real estate managed for human habitation, logging, and recreation.
Risks of land ownership in forests, especially in mountainous regions, abound. They are only going to increase with climate change, and every event is likely to be more severe than the last. Not long ago, the City of Colorado Springs faced demands from private landowners in the foothills for compensation due to severe erosion. Foundations were slipping and cracking, and homes were potentially going to slide off the hillsides. This should be the kind of risk assumed solely by those landowners. If you cannot afford to personally cope with potential catastrophe, then you have no business living there.
During my time living in Tucson, Arizona, we endured an enormous blaze (two fires that fused) that burned most of the back side (north side) of the Santa Catalina mountains north of town. I could see flames coming down the south slope from the balcony of my apartment. Once the fire was extinguished, foothills residents soon began experiencing an influx of wildlife including bears and cougars that were deprived of food and habitat by the fire. Mountain lions in particular posed a threat to pets, and to hikers in the heavily-used Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. Arizona Game & Fish announced they would be closing the area and using lethal force on the cats. This raised such strenuous objections from citizens that they ultimately tranquilized two animals and turn them over to a sanctuary facility in another town.
This is the kind of corner we have painted ourselves into by insisting on the continued existence of the wildland-urban interface: Everyone wanting to live there, no one willing to assume the risks. All the risks are borne by the public at large, regardless of their personal level of affluence, through increased taxes. Valuable resources are used to combat natural disasters, the lives of first responders put at undo risk, and the fabric of natural ecosystems shredded, all because there are people who don't want to live in the city.
They want to flaunt their wealth, and have that stunning view. Maybe they want to be seen, be an example of what we are all supposed to aspire to: the dream home, with neighbors miles away, the ultimate in seclusion and privacy. Those of us in the city are supposed to have a view of their homes interrupting the majestic mountain skyline.
Did I go over the top there? Perhaps, but what we need is to reach consensus on what we will tolerate in terms of what is best for the common good. Right now we assign vastly higher values to private property than public good, and it is costing us dearly every time we respond to a fire, landslide, or wildlife encounter that ends badly. The time to re-assess was yesterday.