Nearly three-quarters of Connecticut’s landscape is made up of areas in which homes sit closely to trees and forests, according to a new report released by the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
That statistic, the report said, helps explain “the vastness of power outages” caused by the devastating Tropical Storm Irene and October snowstorm of 2011.
Out of all 50 states, Connecticut ranks first on the list of having the most Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), which is a term the U.S. Department of Agriculture created to measure the proximity of homes to forest, wetlands and grasslands.
According to a report published in 2000, 72 percent of the state’s land area can be classified as WUI, “a percentage matched by no other state,” the CEQ said.
“Apart from the state’s central cities, Connecticut residents live among trees and appear to embrace the lifestyle,” the report said.
But that proximity lends to the greater chance of power outages, which are often caused by falling trees under the weight of weather elements or snow.
Karl Wagener, executive director of the Council on Environmental Quality, said it's not an original conclusion on his agency's part that Connecticut's forested status contributed to the record power outages during Irene and the October storm. But he said it is "safe to say" that the state's landscape was reflected in the outage numbers.
“If you have a lot of these wild land urban interfaces, you’ll increase your chances for power outages,” Wagener said.
Even though the date of publication on the report is over a decade old, Wagener said it’s unlikely the percentage of WUI-classified land would have changed very much.
“If anything the percentage would have increased a little,” he said.
The Wildlife Factor
Connecticut is a wildlife-friendly place, the report concluded.
On the average plot of ground there are more people doing outdoor recreational activities, like bird watching, than in nearly any other state, and Connecticut is one of five states where people spend more time watching wildlife rather than hunting or fishing, the CEQ said.
The WUI study is typically done to measure communities’ susceptibility to forest fires.
“It was only after the storm that we ever heard about this thing called the WUI,” said Karl Wagener, executive director of the CEQ. “It was brought to light because of some people who testified to it during the Two Storm Panel.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration convened the Two Storm Panel so that state officials could hear testimony, and study results, of Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm. Both massive weather events knocked out power for a record number of state residents—some of whom were in the dark for up to two weeks.
The Day newspaper of New London has an even greater breakdown of some other points in the report. See their story here.