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Home Development on Fire-Prone Lands
West-Wide Summary

© 2007 Headwaters Economics Inc. all rights reserved

Below you will find county-by-county maps and tables that illustrate the data in this study.

Click on chart for a larger version below.

More and more people are building homes in the western "wildland urban interface", the forested areas where housing borders undeveloped public lands. With more homes built in forested areas, it has become increasingly expensive to fight the inevitable wildfires that are part of life in the arid West. Building remote homes on the outskirts of western wildlands is placing a huge strain on U.S. firefighting efforts. The cost to U.S. taxpayers of protecting privately owned properties in the wildland urban interface has been estimated by Forest Service managers to be as high as $1 billion each year.

Most studies of wildland fire and residential development have focused on the cost of firefighting, damage to private property and solutions such as fuel reduction and fire-safe home building. While some studies quantify the number of homes being built near national forests, until now little research has demonstrated the potential severity of the problem in the future.

On this website, Headwaters Economics has prepared maps and graphs illustrating this emerging problem for western communities. Our analysis takes a long view, looking at the potential for more home construction next to fire-prone public lands and implications for future wildfire fighting costs. With the release of these findings, we hope to refocus the attention of policy makers and western communities on the ramifications of current growth trends, and open a dialogue about the needed course correction to keep homes and firefighters safe and firefighting costs in check.

Key findings of our research include:

  • Only 14% of forested western private land adjacent to public land is currently developed for residential use. Based on current growth trends, there is tremendous potential for future development on the remaining 86%.
  • Given the skyrocketing cost of fighting wildfires in recent years (on average $1.3 billion each year between 2000-2005), this potential development would create an unmanageable financial burden for taxpayers.
  • If homes were built in 50% of the forested areas where private land borders public land, annual firefighting costs could range from $2.3 billion to $4.3 billion per year. By way of comparison, the U.S. Forest Service's annual budget is approximately $4.5 billion.
  • One in five homes in the wildland urban interface is a second home or cabin, compared to one in twenty-five homes on other western private lands.
  • Residential lots built near wildlands take up more than six times the space of homes built in other places. On average, 3.2 acres per person are consumed for housing in the wildland urban interface, compared to 0.5 acres on other western private lands.

Existing Risk Map - Click to Zoom
Yellow areas on the map illustrate existing development in fire-prone areas (forested areas adjacent public lands that have been developed); all other development is shown in red; public lands are shown in green.

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State and Region Summary Statistics
West-Wide 3,290.0 20,350.1 14.0% 915,071 21.0%
California 871.8 4,257.0 17.0% 341,175 19.0%
Washington 637.1 2,331.5 21.5% 198,119 8.0%
Oregon 622.1 5,337.8 10.4% 110,563 15.0%
Colorado 407.7 1,570.4 20.6% 94,739 38.0%
Montana 273.7 2,751.0 9.0% 31,394 24.0%
Idaho 211.0 1,936.8 9.8% 30,026 31.0%
New Mexico 114.4 552.1 17.2% 24,899 34.0%
Arizona 81.8 400.1 17.0% 54,634 34.0%
Utah 29.2 575.3 4.8% 11,734 36.0%
Nevada 23.4 221.9 9.5% 13,184 20.0%
Wyoming 17.8 416.3 4.1% 4,604 44.0%

Top 25 Counties in Region Ranked by Existing Risk

Counties are ranked by the number of square miles of developed land in the wildland interface
Josephine County Oregon 119.1 185.7 39.0% 12,451 5.0%
Jackson County Oregon 82.9 463.7 15.0% 7,647 5.0%
Lane County Oregon 78.9 626.6 11.0% 13,704 7.0%
Bonner County Idaho 76.7 230.5 25.0% 8,020 31.0%
Clallam County Washington 72.4 166.7 30.0% 13,271 6.0%
El Dorado County California 69.8 164.3 30.0% 20,233 24.0%
Trinity County California 64.1 310.9 17.0% 5,331 25.0%
Flathead County Montana 60.6 223.2 21.0% 7,846 24.0%
Snohomish County Washington 59.6 75.1 44.0% 17,740 4.0%
Boulder County Colorado 57.1 37.8 60.0% 5,409 25.0%
Lincoln County Montana 53.7 348.5 13.0% 3,936 15.0%
Clackamas County Oregon 46.6 101.7 31.0% 8,033 12.0%
Nevada County California 46.5 132.9 26.0% 17,173 21.0%
King County Washington 43.5 69.7 38.0% 34,367 3.0%
San Bernardino County California 41.2 137.9 23.0% 29,643 45.0%
Douglas County Oregon 40.5 964.4 4.0% 4,735 8.0%
Tuolumne County California 40.4 92.8 30.0% 10,807 35.0%
Calaveras County California 40.0 89.3 31.0% 8,672 40.0%
Larimer County Colorado 39.5 96.0 29.0% 5,564 50.0%
Thurston County Washington 38.4 29.7 56.0% 14,815 3.0%
Plumas County California 37.8 237.1 14.0% 5,788 25.0%
Placer County California 37.1 154.1 19.0% 15,787 39.0%
Lewis County Washington 36.4 130.4 22.0% 7,354 15.0%
Deschutes County Oregon 36.0 62.4 37.0% 15,502 30.0%
Lincoln County Oregon 35.6 147.4 19.0% 9,510 26.0%

Top 25 Counties in Region Ranked by Potential Risk

Counties are ranked by the number of square miles of undeveloped land in the wildland interface.
Douglas County Oregon 40.5 964.4 4.0% 4,735 8.0%
Lane County Oregon 78.9 626.6 11.0% 13,704 7.0%
Siskiyou County California 34.6 528.4 6.0% 3,613 16.0%
Jackson County Oregon 82.9 463.7 15.0% 7,647 5.0%
Shasta County California 32.3 413.4 7.0% 6,289 10.0%
Missoula County Montana 34.2 350.6 9.0% 5,109 13.0%
Lincoln County Montana 53.7 348.5 13.0% 3,936 15.0%
Klamath County Oregon 14.9 338.6 4.0% 2,421 23.0%
Clearwater County Idaho 8.8 324.9 3.0% 1,242 12.0%
Stevens County Washington 25.7 315.1 8.0% 3,272 10.0%
Trinity County California 64.1 310.9 17.0% 5,331 25.0%
Shoshone County Idaho 22.9 308.9 7.0% 3,605 11.0%
Coos County Oregon 27.1 266.5 9.0% 4,909 7.0%
Sanders County Montana 16.4 251.3 6.0% 1,434 15.0%
Plumas County California 37.8 237.1 14.0% 5,788 25.0%
Grant County Oregon 1.7 235.9 1.0% 275 14.0%
Bonner County Idaho 76.7 230.5 25.0% 8,020 31.0%
Idaho County Idaho 13.0 224.8 5.0% 1,192 34.0%
Flathead County Montana 60.6 223.2 21.0% 7,846 24.0%
Lassen County California 3.8 222.7 2.0% 699 13.0%
Mendocino County California 23.7 216.7 10.0% 5,171 13.0%
Linn County Oregon 4.0 213.0 2.0% 1,192 11.0%
Humboldt County California 33.3 210.0 14.0% 7,578 12.0%
Josephine County Oregon 119.1 185.7 39.0% 12,451 5.0%
Clallam County Washington 72.4 166.7 30.0% 13,271 6.0%

Click on column headers to see all data in the West sorted by that column.

Existing Risk
Counties with large areas of developed forested private lands adjacent to fire-prone public lands are shaded darkly in this map. These counties have high risk of wildfire problems.
 
Potential Risk
Counties with large areas of undeveloped forested wildland interface, in which future housing could be built, are shaded darkly in this map. These counties have high potential future risk of wildfire problems.

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