Healthy Living in the Wildland Urban Interface

Healthy Living in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)


Welcome to beautiful Lincoln County and the Lincoln National Forest. Over the past century, America’s population has nearly tripled, with much of the growth flowing into traditionally natural areas. These serene, beautiful settings are attracting more visitors and residents every year. This trend has created an extremely complex landscape that is known as the wildland/urban interface (WUI).


The beauty of our landscape and the opportunity to experience nature is one of the many reasons people choose to live in Lincoln County. While we love being in the mountains, the risk of wildfire is always with us. We all share the responsibility to create and maintain a healthy and safe forest environment. As a resident of Lincoln County, there are some simple steps that can help you improve the health of the forest and reduce the risk of wildfire.

Before                                                                                                 After


 Landowner Request For Assistance Form                                              Wildland Fire Action Guide

 The goals of the Lincoln County Forest Health Program include:


1)      Creating wildfire defensible space around structures in the wildland-urban interface, and

2)      Improving the overall health of the forest by thinning and applying other conservation measures on the ground.


Creating defensible space around the home and thinning the property to a more natural tree density does not guarantee that a wildfire will not destroy your home, or that bark beetle kill will not occur on a property’s remaining trees. It will, however, reduce the risk of both.


The following treatment plan is recommended by the New Mexico State Forestry Division:


Defensible space is the area around a structure where fuels and vegetation are treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire toward a structure. Zone 1 is defined as the area from 1 to 15 feet from the structure. Zone 2 is the area from 15 to 100 feet of the structure, and Zone 3 is the area 100 feet and beyond.


Recommendations for these zones include:


Zone 1 (1-15 feet from the structure)

  • All standing trees within the 15 feet of the house will be removed.
  • Firewood will not be stacked within this area.
  • All dead and down woody material should be removed from this area.
  • All pine needles should be raked and removed from this area.
  • All slash, chips and masticated material should be removed from this area.
  • Tree stumps should be no more than ½ the diameter of the tree or 12”, whichever is less.


Zone 2 (15-100 feet from the structure)

  • Tree crowns should have at least 15 to 20 feet between tree crowns.
  • If trees are clumped, there should be at least 15 to 20 feet cleared around crowns of clumps.
  • Tree stumps should be no more than ½ the diameter of the tree or 12”, whichever is less.
  • Masticated materials should be no more than 4” deep.
  • Chips should be no more than 2” deep and should not be spread around the drip line of the remaining trees.
  • All ladder fuels should be removed from this area.
  • All firewood piles and saw mill logs should be removed or piled at least 30 feet away from house either uphill or at the same elevation as the structures.
  • Prune trees 15 feet up, but no more than 1/3 of the crown.


Once a property is thinned, it is essential that the property be maintained regularly to prevent it from reverting back to its unhealthy state. These are the maintenance practices that should be completed by the landowner:


  • Annually inspect the property for damage to trees (by weather, insects or disease).
  • Remove dead and dying trees and residual slash.
  • Any small seedlings or saplings should be removed. Some can be left as replacement trees if they aren’t ladder fuels.
  • Herbicides may be used to prevent juniper regeneration (follow regulations).
  • Rake pine needles and remove from zones 1 and 2.
  • Keep grass mowed in zones 1 and 2.
  • Keep firewood at least 30 feet from structures.
  • Keep grass mowed and firewood away from propane tank.
  • Check roof and gutters at least annually for woody debris and remove.
  • Prune trees and shrubs as needed to maintain defensible space.


When preparing to thin your property, use the following guidelines provided by the New Mexico State Forestry Division:


Thinning Guidelines for Forestry Practices

1.  The best trees should be left for the future. Poor quality and crowded trees should be thinned.


2. All trees 4.5 feet tall or greater must be considered in thinning operations.


3. Stump height should not exceed 6” on the uphill side of the tree unless obstructions, such as rocks or old fence wire, make it difficult to attain this height. Cut trees must be 100% severed from stump.


4. The predominant forest type will be favored in the thinning unless otherwise stated in the management plan. Quality specimens of minor species should be left on site to maintain diversity. In trees with multiple stems (especially junipers), the “leave tree” ribbons or paint may only occur on some of the stems but not all of them; this indicates the unmarked stems must be removed during thinning.


5. At a minimum slash should be lopped and scattered. Slash height should not exceed 24” above ground. On larger trees, the top should be cut from the main stem at or near the 4” point.


6. Slash pile size should usually not exceed the following dimensions; three feet high, by three feet wide, by three feet long (27 cubic feet). Slash piles should be located as far away as possible from retained trees to minimize the potential for scorch damage to “leave” trees when piles are burned. Larger piles can be created if arrangements are made with Service Forester.  Roundwood created in thin and pile operations must be bucked into practical lengths and placed within the pile, or stacked neatly next to the pile. Under no circumstances in thin and pile projects should tree length or log length material be left as felled in the thinned area. Such material must be bucked and stacked neatly.


7. If slash is to be chipped, the chipped material should be broadcast throughout the treatment area to depths of no more than three inches, or the material should be hauled offsite. Under no circumstances, should chipped material be left in piles. This is to eliminate the chances of wildfires due to spontaneous combustion or the accidental ignition of fine, chipped material.


8. All main roads should be kept clear of slash. Stems should not be felled across fences, roads, or boundary lines. Leave trees which are severely damaged during felling operations, to the extent that they will not survive or be viable, must be felled and subsequent slash must be treated. Severe damage includes broken tops, loss of foliage on more than one third of the crown, substantial stem damage, substantial root damage, or girdling.


9. In deciding which trees will be selected on the basis of their position in the canopy, vigor, diameter, and external or internal defects. Consider the following items as cause for removal;

Selection Criteria

 a. Insect infestation / Disease infection

 g. Forked tops

 b. Position in Canopy:  suppressed/ intermediate trees

 h. Poor vigor, poor crowns

 c. Broken or dead tops

 i. Mechanical damage

 d. Sweep, lean, and crook

 j. Poor form or excessive taper

 e. Crowns touching

 k. "Wolf" trees with numerous big limbs

 f. Porcupine damage

 l. Trees damaged severely during thinning


10. Spacing is important, but not paramount in deciding which trees to leave. Quality should not be sacrificed to adhere to a predetermined spacing guide. Leaving an undesirable tree to keep a predetermined spacing is a poor practice and should be avoided if a better quality tree is present at a somewhat closer spacing. Openings can be created around a small group of quality trees.