News

Media coverage of research by Headwaters Economics.

“Political Climbers”

Harper's

…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.

“Cash for Rural Western Counties Could Dry Up Under Trump Budget”

KQED

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.

“More Money, Less Production if Royalties Raised: GAO”

GAO

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.

“Wildland Fire Risk Reduction”

GAO

…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.

“What Utah’s Canyon Country Can Tell Us About Trump’s Monuments Review”

NPR

…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.

“‘Wild Olympics’ Proposal Harnesses Economic Power of Public Lands”

Daily Yonder

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.

“Zinke Must Keep His Park Promises”

Billings Gazette

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.

“How Tiny Bozeman, Montana Became a Booming Tech Town”

Fast Company

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.

“Study: Federal Lands Boon to Rural Areas”

Politico

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.

“How Public Lands in Colorado Are Boosting Local Economies”

Denver Post

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.

“Dam Removal: Often the Smartest, Safest Investment”

Morning Consult

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…

“Bozeman Economist Recruited for National Study on Outdoor Recreation”

Bozeman Chronicle

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.

“Economist: Trails Are Good for Your Health and Your Wallet”

Billings Gazette

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.”

“Will a Twice-Burned County Change Its Ways?”

High Country News

…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.”

“As Wildfire Risk Grows in the West, So Does Home Building”

Wall Street Journal

…While decisions on where to develop are made at the local level by private citizens and municipal planners, the costs of fighting fires are mostly picked up by taxpayers at the state and federal level. With that safety net in place, builders and dwellers alike are more comfortable taking the gamble on property susceptible to wildfires.

“When things go wrong, the cost of that is borne by someone else,” said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman, Mont., nonprofit research group that focuses on natural resources management. “That’s the disconnect.”

“Why Do We Keep Putting People in the Way of Wildfire? The Wrong Carrots and Sticks”

Los Angeles Times

It’s a truism California’s harsh 2016 fire season has proved all over again: Wildfire is not the problem; the problem is people living in dangerous places.

As an economist, I would add that the reason people continue building on fire-prone lands, despite the known hazards, is because we have the incentives all wrong. Wildfire presents a classic case of a moral hazard, which is what occurs when someone takes a risk knowing someone else will bear a great deal of the cost if things go wrong.

…For too long policies have been set mostly in reaction to the last, worst fire. Now we have to bring together the firefighting community, city and county leaders, legal scholars and federal land managers to craft a set of rewards — and penalties — that will result in safer communities in the highly flammable West and the rest of the nation.

“Why Fighting Wildfires in California Costs More than Other States”

Southern California Public Radio

What makes California’s wildfires so expensive? It’s primarily that a lot of people live in the wilderness areas, according to Chris Mehl, policy director with the Montana-based nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics.

Fire agencies often devote the majority of their resources to protecting homes: between 33 and 90 percent of the cost of suppressing fires is spent on structure protection, according to Mehl.

“Panel Says Protected Public Lands Good for Politics, Economy”

Salt Lake Tribune

…During the forum titled “Winning the West,” economist Ray Rasker and others cited data and polling results that highlight the vital roles public lands play in the economic prospects and quality of life in Western counties.

Conventional wisdom among Utah’s political leaders and rural county commissioners is that national monuments and federal land management stifle economic development.

But economic data suggest the opposite is true, according to Rasker, director of the Montana-based Headwaters Economics. What Headwaters has found, in short, is: Public lands good, protected public lands better.

“The West has consistently outpaced the rest of the country in terms of job growth, personal income and per capita income. There is something unique about the West,” Rasker said.

He found that a county’s per capita income is $4,360 higher for every 100,000 acres of protected public land in its boundaries.