“Timber payments … created a really hard situation for local governments in Oregon specifically,” said Kris Smith, a researcher at Headwaters Economics, an independent research group. The area was “stuck in a downward spiral of not having enough money to pay for your everyday needs in local government,” Smith said.
Kimiko Barrett, a researcher who helps communities plan for wildfires at Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group in Montana, said many prospective homebuyers treat fire as an afterthought. A more important audience for the new data could be local officials, she said, who decide how much money to provide to reduce fire risk and where to allow new construction.
Kimiko Barrett is a lead analyst at Headwaters Economics. She said it’s not just the American West at risk. There’s just more awareness there, given the experience of the last few years.
“And that’s not necessarily the same situation across the country. More than anything, I think it’s just worth knowing that risk is everywhere,” Barrett said.
“We already live in these places that have a lot of risk, so we need to think about how we can become better fire-adapted and build our homes and communities safer,” Pohl says.
“Rural and economically isolated communities could find it hardest to adapt to a low-carbon economy, said Montana-based Headwaters Economics researcher and economist Kristin Smith.”
“There’s evidence that it brings people back, but the question is, does it generate sustained economic development, and does it generate it in the places where you want it?”
A new map from Headwaters Economics that measures “rural capacity” — an area’s ability to handle everything it takes to apply for and implement state or federal money — shows that several western Kansas counties, including Morton, Gove and Cheyenne, rank among the most limited in the nation.
“The point of this was to shed light on major barriers that exist for communities trying to plan and finance climate adaptation projects,” said Patty Hernandez, the executive director of Headwaters Economics. “For our team, it was really striking how widespread the problem is.”
Barrett said most recovery costs are borne at the local level, by local homeowners, businesses and municipal government. Local governments can get out ahead of those costs by retrofitting buildings and infrastructure for fire resilience, she said. But that won’t come cheap, either.
“These decisions are being made right now that will impact the ability of rural communities to access the dollars that are coming online.”
“Retrofitting homes is going to be more expensive than building a home from the start,” said Kimiko Barrett, wildfire research and policy lead at the nonprofit Headwaters Economics.
National park designation can both help—and hinder—our wild spaces.
54 million acres of federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management aren’t meeting the agency’s own land-health standards.
“We wanted to create a map to show where help is most needed,” Hernandez said. “Rural communities are failing to compete with higher-capacity cities for funding and resources no matter the gravity of their situations.”
As land prices have climbed, so have housing and rental costs. Headwaters said “communities across the country, in every state, are grappling with prices increasing at a rate not seen before, even during the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession.”
Some new data indicated some rural communities that could be left behind in the infrastructure bill.
New homes that meet wildfire-resistant codes can be constructed for roughly the same cost as a typical home and have additional benefits, such as a longer lifecycle and less maintenance, according to a 2018 report from the Montana-based research group Headwaters Economics.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress is directing a historic amount of funds to climate resilience. But some rural communities risk being left behind on these investments.
“Recreation destinations on average have seen larger price increases than nonrecreation destinations,” said Megan Lawson, a housing economist with Bozeman, Montana’s Headwaters Economics, which studies the West.
The CPI captures how much consumers in urban areas spend on goods and services, with the key word being “urban.” It misses some of the nuance of rural life, according to Megan Lawson with Headwaters Economics.