These questions extend not just to those homes destroyed by the Northern California wildfires, but to developers across the country who are choosing to build in high-risk zones. Sixty percent of new homes built in the U.S. since 1990 have been constructed in areas that adjacent to fire-prone public lands, and this is forecasted to continue, according to an analysis by Montana-based Headwaters Economics. Kelly Pohl, a researcher at Headwaters, says now’s the time to pressure developers to halt this trend—or, at least, to start using smart land-use strategies to reduce risk.
“We have to honor and recognize that this has been a really tragic fire season for lots of communities across the country. We’re talking about real people with memories, communities, and experiences that have been severely impacted by these fires,” she said. “But people’s memories are short, and we have an opportunity to learn from this.”
Across the West, more young people are moving out of rural communities than in. In every decade since 1980, most rural counties in the 11 Western states lost 20-somethings, without an influx of other young adults to make up for the loss, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau migration data by the Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics.
A few managed to attract young people with the lure of some nearby metro area like Albuquerque or Denver, or a roaring tourism industry like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but the undeniable trend has been a slow march to cities, where, especially in the West, jobs and people are increasingly concentrated.
Headwaters Economics has studied the local economies surrounding 17 national monuments and found all showed continued or improved growth in key economic indicators.
Nationally, outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs each year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
The designation of national monuments can elevate a region’s profile, drawing tourists and buoying local economies.
A study of 17 Western monuments from Headwaters Economics found that counties around each site tended to gain more jobs and population compared with similar counties in each state.
…The Headwaters Economics’ report, “Business for Montana’s Outdoors Five-year Report: Montana’s Public Lands, Jobs, and the Economy” shows 102,000 new jobs were created in Montana between 2000 and 2015. About 85 percent of those new jobs were in service-related industries that run the gamut from outdoor recreation, health care and real estate.
“Our public lands are a serious business,” said Marne Hayes, Business for Montana Outdoors executive director. “When you see rising personal income and job growth in communities that are home to protected public lands, it adds to the importance of advocating for this crucial business asset.”
…Since 1970, employment in the West has grown 176 percent, twice as fast as in the rest of the nation; personal income has gone up along with it.
To understand how this transformation has affected Western economies Rasker turned to Bozeman (including the region around Yellowstone). Compared with those areas, he found, Bozeman is growing at a faster rate, according to standard measures like population, employment, and per capita income. The reason, he concluded, is that the town has as its economic infrastructure the immediate accessibility of public lands. That is what entices people with the most portable and independent jobs — and, often, the rich — to settle there. The same applies to places like it.
In another study, Rasker looked at each county according to its share of public lands. Over the past forty-five years, the economies in places with more access performed better — one long, strong trend.
The proposed cuts to PILT are even more significant in light of a proposal to eliminate an additional source of federal funding to rural areas: the Secure Rural Schools program. The program, which funds local education, road building, and other basic services in areas hit-hard by the decline in logging on public lands, expired in 2015 and President Trump’s proposed budget does not re-authorize it.
It’s these sparsely-populated, rural counties with large amounts of public land that stand to lose the most if PILT is cut, said Mark Haggerty, an economist with Headwaters Economics, a non-partisan economic research firm in Bozeman, Montana. He mapped the impact of the proposed federal payment cuts on every county. He has been working with counties in rural Idaho that are staring down a loss of 40 percent of their budgets.
Oil, gas and coal production on public lands would likely dip if royalty rates were raised, but the federal government would still make more money, according to the Government Accountability Office.
[Another] coal study was from Mark Haggerty and Megan Lawson of Headwaters Economics and Montana State University’s Jason Pearcy.
The researchers examined an effective royalty rate, which would charge royalties after processing and transportation, and not at the mine mouth as is currently done.
…According to a nonfederal researcher we interviewed, it is also helpful when communities integrate actions or requirements to reduce risk into comprehensive county land-use plans. For example, the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program, established in 2015 by Headwaters Economics and Wildfire Planning International, is a grant program that works with communities to help reduce wildfire risk through improved land-use planning.
In Wenatchee, Washington, the program developed recommendations to help the community improve its land-use plans specific to its wildland fire risk. While the community has high-frequency fires, they are not high intensity and most are grass fires, though many buildings have been lost in recent fires. Through the
program, community planners determined that it was unnecessary to require the entire community to use fire-resistant building materials and create defensible space; instead, they decided to place such requirements on homes located in the community’s highest risk areas.
…So, what is the benefit or harm of having a national monument in your neighborhood?
According to Headwaters Economics, a Montana-based think tank that crunched the data on jobs and the economy around 17 of the national monuments under review, the effect is anywhere from nothing to a modest net positive.
Chris Mehl, the group’s policy director, says that from 2001 to 2015, overall jobs in the communities around Grand Staircase, in particular, increased by 24 percent and personal income overall grew by 32 percent.
These jobs are believed to be mostly service based, in fields that include everything from health care to hospitality, outdoor recreation and tourism.
A study from the independent, nonpartisan research organization Headwaters Economics links the presence of public land in rural Western counties with better economic performance.
“Western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands on average had faster population, employment, and personal income growth than their peers with the lowest share of federal lands,” the study found. “Per capita incomes grew somewhat faster” from the 1970s to the 2010s.
Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman-based research organization, used the NPS and U.S. Geological Survey Visitor Spending Effects report for 2016 to analyze the parks’ economic impact.
Across the country, 328.4 million national park visits generated $18.1 billion in visitor spending that created 269,201 jobs.
In Yellowstone Park alone, 4.2 million visits generated $524.3 million in spending that created 8,156 jobs.
Chris Mehl is a Bozeman city commissioner and works for Headwaters Economics, which researches the economies of the rural West. His firm has documented a trend in Western urbanization that exacerbates the economic gap between small cities—think Bozeman and Bend, Oregon—and the truly rural places surrounding them.
A major determinant is infrastructure. If a town has access to transportation and high-speed internet, then it is easier for new companies to locate there. Remote employees, of which there are many in Bozeman, typically command high wages and can settle in any burg with internet access. “Why rural communities aren’t demanding broadband, I don’t know,” Mehl says.
Headwaters Economics in 2011 and 2014 studied the economic vitality of communities hosting 17 national monuments in the West, including Montezuma County. The overarching conclusion: national monuments are consistent with economic growth.
“On average, rural counties across the West with more federal lands do better than counties with less federal lands,” Mehl said.
An analysis released Tuesday by nonpartisan Headwaters Economics found Western rural counties with the largest shares of federal lands enjoyed faster growth in population, employment and personal income than those with the lowest percentage of public lands.
The independent nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics in 2014 studied economic indicators in communities surrounding 17 national monuments in the West. Every community saw growth following the designation of a national monument.
Per capita income rose in each of the largely rural communities as the monuments helped broaden and diversify the economies in those communities, according to Montana-based Headwaters Economics. The study showed Western rural counties with more than 30 percent of their land protected under some sort of federal designation saw the number of jobs increase at a rate four times greater than counties without that level of federal land protection. Those communities also attracted business owners and entrepreneurs who were lured by the outdoor amenities and lifestyle of the region.
A more recent study by Headwaters in 2016 showed rural counties in the West with the highest percentage of federal lands show stronger income growth, population growth and job creation than the counties with the lowest percentage of federal land.
Today the average U.S. dam is more than 50 years old. As this infrastructure ages, deterioration, maintenance requirements, and repair costs accelerate. Rehabilitation of a typical non-federal dam today ranges from $100,000 to millions of dollars.
According to a 2016 report by Headwaters Economics, the costs of removing certain dams may be far outweighed by the benefits…
The U.S. Department of Commerce has recruited a Bozeman economist to help study the economic impact of the country’s outdoor recreation industry.
Ray Rasker, executive director at local nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics, was one of three consultants hired by the department to perform an in-depth measure of outdoor recreation spending and how it contributes to the U.S. economy. The study comes as part of a federal bill, the Outdoor Recreation’s Economic Contributions Act of 2016, which passed the Senate earlier this week.
While presenting research Tuesday about the value of trails to a community’s economic vitality and residents’ health and property values, Megan Lawson realized she was preaching to the choir, in this case the Billings Chamber of Commerce Trails Committee.
Still, what the economist with Headwaters Economics in Bozeman had to say gave trails proponents — in this case, a group that includes home builders, planners, attorneys and bicyclists — information they can use to justify the group’s goal of completing Billings’ Marathon Loop of trails.
…But constructing trails is not enough, Lawson told the group. Even the communities with the nation’s best trail systems need businesses like restaurants, lodging, shuttle service, even guides, to support trail users. “Successful communities,” she said, “have figured out ways to get people from trails into the town’s businesses.”
…According to researchers at Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman, Montana-based nonprofit, most Western counties, whatever their politics, generally allow risky home construction. This, in turn, puts a growing burden on the U.S. Forest Service, which bears the brunt of the region’s firefighting costs. In 2015, the agency spent more than half its $6.5 billion budget on wildfire-related activities, largely because of pressure to defend private property.
Counties and other local governments “are absolutely central” to containing those costs, says Ray Rasker, Headwaters executive director. But “it’s very rare, at the end of a fire, that a community concludes that it should have better land-use planning.”