According to an analysis by Headwaters Economics, local taxes help fund health-care services — for areas that have hospitals — in more than half of rural Western counties with recreation-based economies.
“The rural health care system is already getting by on a shoestring, with rural hospitals closing and remaining hospitals being easily overwhelmed, especially in these rural communities that have demands beyond the local population.” Haggerty is concerned that public-sector hospitals, partially funded by taxpayers to remain open and available to both year-round local residents, are facing a combined problem of increased demand and declining local government revenues.
Last year, the federal government took in about $155 million in royalties from the oil, gas and coal operators on public land in Utah, according to Headwaters Economics. About 48% of that money is returned to the state of Utah, and the Republican members of Congress say in their letters that Interior should still flow back to the states where the drilling and mining is happening.
Ray Rasker with Headwaters Economics, a non-profit research group, said recreation-based counties are also particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of COVID-19.
“Recreation works through volume. We need to get lots of people in there, spending money and we need to see each other face to face, right? We need to come into your store and your coffee shop, into your restaurant,” Rasker said, adding that’s mostly impossible right now.
In the West, nearly 100,000 people over 65 years old live in counties without a hospital bed.
As the Western United States continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases, it’s important to get a sense of the region’s health-care capacity… These maps and charts, compiled by Megan Lawson of Headwaters Economics, help give a snapshot* of hospital bed capacity around the West.
‘LWCF is very important for rural communities who want to pursue outdoor recreation as a vehicle for rural economic development,’ said Megan Lawson, an economist with Headwaters Economics, an independent, nonprofit research group. ‘LWCF has touched all 50 states, touched thousands of local communities, and it’s an important resource especially in rural places.’
In rural areas, retirement benefits can make up more than 50% of local spending, what Megan Lawson with Headwaters Economics calls the “mailbox economy.”
“Non-labor income can really be a tremendous support in rural places that maybe don’t have a robust job market,” Lawson said.
Mark Haggerty with the research group Headwaters Economics says one-industry towns are inherently vulnerable. ‘The real effort that needs to take place is trying to diversify and reach out and branch out into new sectors, into new ideas that will sustain the community going forward.’
The outdoor recreation economy has been a rare bright spot in many rural communities, particularly those places near public lands. Rural counties with recreation-based economies have slightly higher incomes and are seeing more population growth since 2010, according to Headwaters Economics’ 2019 report, Recreation Counties Attracting New Residents and Higher Incomes.
The country’s largest dune field has been a national monument since 1933, but now it’s our 62nd national park. The new designation will also have positive impacts on the surrounding community: a 2018 study found that turning monuments to national parks could increase visitation by 21 percent (about 100,000 more visitors) in the first five years and result in a $7.5 million increase in the local economy, mainly due to increased visibility.
Rural recreation counties are growing faster than counties that don’t have a lot of hiking, hunting and fishing opportunities, according to the nonprofit Headwaters Economics.
In total, 16 states now have some kind of recreation office or task force. Each functions slightly differently…That state-specific development approach is becoming increasingly important in rural areas struggling to retain residents. The research group Headwaters Economics found that rural areas with recreation options have both more people moving in and a faster earnings growth.
From 1990 to 2016, over 1.3 million acres of undeveloped land in Montana was converted into housing, according to a 2018 report by Headwaters Economics. The demographic landscape is changing as well: Several western Montana counties are attracting younger people and new residents from across the country. All this population growth is making water management more complicated.
Ray Rasker, of Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, sees the issue a bit differently.
“Montana has done a really good job at investing in recreation infrastructure,” he said.
He pointed to Montana’s fishing access sites as one example. The state has about 332 sites that allow anglers and boaters a place to launch, fish or just play in the water. Each one, on average, costs the state about $150,000. Totaled up, that’s a huge investment, almost $50 million. Yet revenues derived just from anglers in the state — not counting all of the boaters who use the access sites — is $900 million a year, he said.
“That’s a good return on investment.”
Colstrip is just one town in a region that relies on coal for economic stability. A 2018 study from Headwaters Economics found that many of these places in the West lack adequate plans to address the economic and human impacts of coal industry decline.
Mark Haggerty, an economist for Headwaters Economics, authored the study. He has been writing about the impacts of natural resource extraction for a decade. He said there are few actions that towns and counties can take to prepare for industry decline without direction or policy change at the state level.
The Montana Governor’s Office is searching for new ways to tap into the state’s outdoor economy — an economic engine already fueled by more than $7 billion spent in the state each year. The Office of Outdoor Recreation hosted what it billed as its first innovation lab in Whitefish, Thursday.
According to a 2018 report from Headwaters Economics, state parks receive more than 2.5 million visitors a year.”
Two trends are converging in large wildland states like Montana — more frequent and severe wildfires and rapid home development in wildfire prone areas. A conference this week examined how homes burn and how to protect them.
Kelly Pohl is with Headwaters Economics, a non-profit research organization based in Bozeman. The group hosted the Building for Wildfire Summit in Big Sky this week along with the Big Sky Fire Department.
Pohl says one in three homes in the U.S. are in the wildland-urban interface. That’s where homes meet or intermingle with flammable vegetation — like a house built on the edge of a forest. In Montana, Pohl says more than half of the homes built here are in those kind of fire prone areas. The big sky state is ranked number one in the nation for the highest percentage of homes in areas with extreme risk to wildfires.
Centennial State still has no permanent mineral trust fund…
Mark Haggerty, of Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman, Mont.-based independent research firm focused on community development and land management, said the debate over Colorado having or not having a permanent trust fund isn’t black and white.
‘Because Colorado has a much larger and more diverse economy than many of the other states that have a lot of oil and gas and coal, there’s not as much attention paid’ to having a permanent fund, Haggerty said. ‘Having a savings fund is less consequential for the state budget.’
But a savings fund is still a good idea, Haggerty said. Colorado could reduce or eliminate property tax deductions and use the resulting revenue to create a permanent fund.”