News Room (213)
…To make a real impact, Rasker says, we need to start doing something about the areas that have yet to be developed. Drawing on input from rangers, fire marshals, ecologists and government officials from all over the Western U.S., he’s developed a nine-point plan that would reduce the risk of wildfire by controlling the pattern of future development in the WUI.
The most basic step: requiring counties to disclose the fire risk potential to homebuyers. That alone, he argues, will have people thinking twice about building in the WUI….
…Mark Haggerty, of Bozeman, Montana-based Headwaters Economics, says all interests need to rethink both PILT and SRS, perhaps combining the compensation funds. One measure would be to distribute money to rural counties in need, rather than by the existing formula, based on counties’ total public land acreage, which doesn’t account for the urban development that generates plenty of revenue.
Haggerty and others have also pitched the idea of a natural resources trust to remedy the situation. Under that scenario, managers would bank appropriations over the next 15 to 20 years to build an endowment for rural services and land management. A trust could support restoration projects, wilderness management and logging, when appropriate, while leveraging the resources of regional cooperative programs, such as Idaho’s Clearwater Basin Collaborative…
“If we can show that we’re working collaboratively on the ground with the county commissioners, the timber industry and the environmental community, to recognize both local needs and national interests,” Haggerty says, “then we ought to have a payment system that encourages and rewards that kind of management planning.” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, D, has included the idea in a recent forest-management reform package….
By most measures, Ohio’s taxes on energy production are low. They’re less than 1 percent, compared to 7 percent in Texas, 11 percent in Wyoming, and 25 percent in Alaska.
Kasich wants to raise state taxes to 2.75 percent or even higher. Drilling companies threaten to leave and go to low-tax states. But that hasn’t happened historically.
A study by Headwaters Economics notes “the academic literature generally disagrees that tax competition is important to oil production.”
The cost trends around wildfire also are troublesome. Since 1990, the number of homes destroyed has tripled. Yet in the last 30 years, 60 percent of new homes in the U.S. were built in the wildland-urban interface, the private land next to public forests.
Federal firefighting costs average $3 billion annually; also triple the amount from a decade ago. Our research and others indicates that at least one-third and up to 95 percent of the firefighting bill goes to defend private homes….
What has not yet been tried is altering the pattern of future home development on fire-prone lands. The key is to get the incentives right. Currently, local governments benefit from a federal government subsidy that pays the bulk of firefighting costs and underwrites risky and expensive developments. Passing on more costs to local governments – where home building is permitted – would incentivize better planning.
With this year’s 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act some people are asking whether protected public lands, set aside for conservation, also provide economic benefits in addition to their scenic and recreation values.
The good news is that in today’s modern, technologically-advanced economy, wild places can help communities attract and retain talent. Wilderness (and national parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments) also can play a role in attracting the tidal wave of retiring Baby Boomers. And, more obviously, wild places create jobs in outdoor recreation, now a $646 billion industry.
It’s estimated that at least 30 percent of the money the Forest Service and BLM spend on wildfires is spent to protect private property, like homes on the edge of public lands.
A new report from Headwaters Economics in Bozeman offers strategies to keep that number from growing.
According to “Protected Lands and Economics: A Summary of Research and Careful Analysis on the Economic Impact of Protected Federal Lands,” a report published by Headwaters Economic this summer, western counties that have permanent protections on federal lands—such as National Parks, Monuments, or Wilderness Areas—show higher than average rates of job growth and have higher levels of per capita income.
“Protected federal public lands in the West, including lands in non-metro counties, can be an important economic asset that extends beyond tourism and recreation to attract people and businesses,” the report states.
In addition to outdoor recreation, Headwaters Economics group has found that protected federal public lands support faster rates of job growth and higher income levels related to the knowledge-based economy.
As a result, local officials have little incentive to stop a high-risk development when they stand to reap the property tax rewards without bearing the full risks.
“The consequences of those development decisions aren’t being felt by the people who are making them,” says Rasker…
Protecting forest-edge homes from wildfires will become intolerably expensive unless western communities change the way they approve development, a Montana research group says.
Taxpayers subsidize irresponsible building when federal money is used to fight wildland fires, Headwaters Economics says in series of studies. Unless changes are made in the way homes are approved, sited, financed, insured and protected, the $3 billion national firefighting budget will erupt into an unsustainable burden, the group says…