…Over the past decade, severe wildfire seasons have outnumbered the mild ones, in the nation and in the Ninth District. The cost of fighting wildfires has risen with the flames, taxing the resources of government agencies charged with putting out fires. Last year, the U.S. Forest Service alone spent over $1 billion fighting wildfires, mostly in the western part of the country.
In the district, the intensity of recent fire years and the resulting costs are most evident in fire-prone Montana. Over most of the past decade, state government incurred average annual fire suppression costs of over $20 million—just a fraction of total firefighting costs in the state. Costs peaked at $65 million in the 2007 fire season, requiring a special legislative session to cover a budget shortfall. “What we’ve seen is a really substantial escalation in the number of fire seasons where we burn a lot of acres, and a lot of those acres are threatening communities, so we tend to spend a lot of money,” said State Forester Bob Harrington….
….Headwaters Economics, a research group based in Bozeman, Mont., analyzed daily fire suppression costs for 18 large wildfires that burned in Montana during 2006 and 2007. The study found that each additional house within one mile of a wildfire was associated with a $7,900 increase in suppression costs. For conflagrations in areas with relatively dense development, about 30 percent of the cost of fighting those fires was related to structure protection. Another study of large wildfires fought by the U.S. Forest Service found that as total home values within 20 miles of a fire ignition increase, so do firefighting costs…
Recent press coverage of research by Headwaters Economics.
Colorado Leads on Clean Energy
By Julia Haggerty, Headwaters Economics— While Colorado has not been immune to the global recession, a recent study finds that the state’s green economy has been a bright spot of economic dynamism during challenging times and that the growth of Colorado’s clean energy sector has outpaced that of all other Rocky Mountain States.
That did not happen by accident. Colorado’s strategy of targeted public policy and strong support for business has made it a competitive center of clean tech innovation that leads the region in almost every indicator, including capturing the most clean energy-related jobs, venture capital, and public funding.… (more…)
New Mexico Ahead in the Green Game
By Julia Haggerty Ph.D., Headwaters Economics— New Mexico’s combined strategy of targeted public policy, strong leadership, and support for business has made it a regional and national clean energy leader, increasing its green jobs faster than other Rocky Mountain States.
The states with the best early results and strongest competitive position are those able to capture new energy opportunities–not only power generation facilities and manufacturing jobs, but investment and employment in the myriad technologies, products and services related to a growing worldwide demand for clean energy, conservation and energy efficiency.
New Mexico’s success shows the importance of both policy and political guidance at all levels of government, from county commissioner to U.S. senator. The state’s aggressive outreach program, backed by strong incentives–including property tax breaks, bonding, and worker training–has attracted new jobs and investment to the state.… (more…)
Montana Missing Clean Energy Opportunities
By Julia Haggerty Ph.D., Headwaters Economics— During the recent economic downturn, Montana’s wind industry has been a welcome bright spot, creating jobs, revenues for landowners and supporting county and state treasuries.
One important question now facing Montanans is how the state can leverage its renewable resources to cultivate a broader green economy that generates jobs, taxes and investments.
Headwaters Economics recently completed a report–Clean Energy Leadership in the Rockies: Competitive Positioning in the Emerging Green Economy–that compares how Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are taking advantage of clean energy opportunities.… (more…)
Colorado Harvests a Green Economy
Colorado’s green economy has been boosted by more than $796 million in venture-capital investment and $300 million in federal stimulus funds in the past decade, according to a study on green-job growth in the West.
Between 1995 and 2007, environment-related and renewable-energy-related jobs in Colorado grew by 30 percent to 17,008, the study by Headwater Economics, a nonprofit research group in Bozeman, Mont., showed.
‘The numbers are still small, but this has been a growing area, and Colorado has attracted venture capital, even during the recession,’ said Chris Mehl, Headwaters policy director.
The green economy’s venture-capital investments were made in the state between 1999 and 2008, the fifth highest among states, according to the study.… (more…)
Why Did Deschutes Fall so Hard?
A Montana-based nonprofit is studying why Deschutes County has struggled more during this recession than other similarly populated areas that, like Deschutes, saw strong growth before the economic downturn. Headwaters Economics’ study aims to provide an analysis about how the county can better diversify its economy, how it has done so in the past and how it can become more resilient to recessions. The information gathered by Bozeman-based Headwaters will be used to learn why businesses come to Deschutes County, what keeps them here and the pros and cons of operating a business in the area.
Headwaters is interviewing people from a county in Idaho and another in Utah, which had pre-recession growth rates and economic environments similar to Deschutes County, to try to determine why those two counties have suffered less than Deschutes during the recession.… (more…)
Wildfire Costs Rising
…Why the big cost increase? The Headwaters Economics report cites three factors: wood, weather, and WUI — the Wildland-Urban Interface. Wood is a result of forest management practices that allow fuel to accumulate. Weather is a hotter, drier climate. And the WUI zone is an increasingly attractive place to build homes, which means there’s more property to be protected from wildfires.
Such developments benefit from “perverse incentives” and a lack of accountability: “People who develop in forested areas, and local governments that allow such new subdivisions, do not pay their share of fire fighting costs. The majority of firefighting expenses instead are paid by the Forest Service, BLM, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”
…If you live where wildfires are a possibility, it might be a good idea to make sure your county commissioners get a copy of this report — deterring development in the WUI is one way to save tax money.… (more…)
To Protect and Serve: Could More Wilderness be the Answer for Struggling Rural Economies?
…In a study that ONDA commissioned to examine the potential economic benefits of designating the Badlands area outside of Bend as a federal wilderness area, the Montana-based non-profit research firm Headwaters Economics found that counties with protected federal lands, including wilderness, outperformed their counterparts in a number of key economic indicators, including per capita income, job and population growth.
:There is a lot of complaining about public lands, but from an economics perspective having public lands is a good thing and demonstrably so,” said Ben Alexander who helped write the Badlands report for ONDA.
It’s a phenomenon that has played out not just across the Western United States, but also around the world where entrepreneurs and educated members of the workforce are seeking out so-called quality of life destinations, identifying the places they want to live and locating there. Wilderness and other protected areas like national parks, it turns out, factor significantly into those decisions. In some cases, the transplants bring their businesses or their jobs with them, in other cases the jobs are following the skilled workforce, explained Alexander.… (more…)
Curbing Wildfires’s Cost
By Ray Rasker, Executive Director, Headwaters Economics— Fighting wildfires costs U.S. taxpayers $3 billion annually, more than twice what it cost a decade ago. Unfortunately, this expense is almost certain to continue to grow, and — unless action is taken — firefighting costs could at least double again in the next 15 years because of expanding residential development on fire-prone lands and increased temperatures associated with climate change.…
In an effort to curb the rising expense of fighting forest fires, Headwaters Economics has developed a report that outlines ten possible solutions, ranging from increased education to changes in insurance or mortgage laws.
The research white paper shows that we have the knowledge and solutions needed to address this problem, and the report, Solutions to the Rising Costs of Fighting Fires in the Wildland-Urban Interface, enjoys the support of former Director Kennedy and Dale Bosworth, former Chief of the Forest Service.… (more…)
Wildfire Costs Won’t Change Without New Incentives
Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research firm in Bozeman, Mont., has outlined 10 proposals to help curb the rising expense of fighting forest fires — which already costs taxpayers $3 billion annually or roughly half the Forest Service’s budget. To prevent firefighting costs from at least doubling in the next decade or two, the report recommends some dramatic changes in incentives, pushing costs onto wildland interface property owners and the county commissioners who authorize residential development on fire-prone lands.
‘The current policy of looking the other way while more and more homes are built on dangerous, fire-prone lands is not sustainable,’ said Ray Rasker, the report’s author. ‘This report shows that we have the knowledge and solutions needed to address this problem. Now is the time to implement responsible, accountable steps that can help hold the line on future fire costs.”… (more…)
A Hidden Gem in the Organs
Land and resource management goes hand in hand with economic development, according to a group of panelists who visited from across the West to speak at the “Wilderness Economics” forum Saturday, Dec. 5, at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.…
Ben Alexander, associate director of the Headwaters Economic Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Bozeman, Mont., said historically public lands have been tied to economy prosperity.
“When we think about the economic history of public lands we think of food, shelter, forage and clothing for our pioneers and settlers,” he said. “And subsequently, those lands have generated a tremendous amount of wealth for our communities today.” He said commodity-based uses directly tied to public lands have been diminishing in importance for years, and dramatically so in the last several decades, accounting for less than 10 percent of total personal income in the rural West. One of the best ways to make the lands profitable, he said, is to protect them so that they can provide the scenery, weather, amenities and recreation to make Las Cruces an “attractive” place to do business.”… (more…)
What Will Climate Change Cost Montanans?
By Ray Rasker, Executive Director, Headwaters Economics— Climate change is here. It’s already influencing economic decisions and conditions across the world.
Yet most of the analysis on the impacts of climate change has been so large or abstract—the global impacts of weather patterns or rising sea levels—that the results often hold little value for an average family or small business.
Locally, there has been little research on the direct impacts that climate change will have on Montana communities. Fortunately, more analysis is starting to take place at the state and local level.… (more…)
Best of Both Worlds – Retiring Boomers Likely to Migrate to Small Cities with Natural Amenities, Hospitals
America’s baby boom is set to become the elderly explosion, particularly in Montana’s rural and scenic small towns, as an increasing number of people teeter on the edge of retirement.
In their golden years, the baby boomers are looking for mountains and beaches and lakeshores and, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report, their migration to small towns “will affect rural economies and rural development policy efforts for years to come.…
Their work supports 20 years of research by Ray Rasker, executive director at Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics. ‘The retirees are going to go to the places with the highest amenities,’ Rasker said, meaning rural towns with trails and views and wide open spaces.… (more…)
Wildfire risks rise along with more homes
…In a 2007 study, Headwaters Economics ranked Clackamas County among the Western-U.S. counties with the most developed acreage in the wildland-urban interface.
That acreage is likely to grow. The U.S. Forest Service predicts that 13 percent of the rural acres within 10 miles of the Mount Hood National Forest will see substantial increases in housing development by 2030…
Cost to protect homes from wildfires may jump, study says
…The cost of protecting homes from wildfires could more than double in the next 15 years due to a combination of continued housing development and increasing temperatures, according to a study by Headwaters Economics. Higher average temperatures would cause longer, more intense fire seasons. That, paired with an increase in the number of houses near forestland, would mean more homes would be susceptible to fires, the group said. The safety of residents and firefighters would be the main concern in that situation, but there are also significant economic costs that come along with it, said Headwaters policy director Chris Mehl.… (more…)
Wyoming airports struggle during recession
Nationally, states are seeing fewer airline seats offered for sale in August, as of mid-July in the Official Airline Guide. The information guide states that Wyoming will have 10.5 percent fewer seats available in August, compared to a year ago.…
“Airports do make a difference in economic development,” said Ray Rasker, citing Headwaters Economics’ “Three Wests” study, which examined how the presence of airports contributes greatly to economic diversity and development. “Airports provide access to markets,’ he said. ‘It is always important to people doing business to see each other face-to-face.”
That’s why Gallatin County, Mont., is investing in an airport expansion and improvement project for the Bozeman area — in the middle of a severe recession. “They understand it is a good investment for the decades to come,” Rasker said.… (more…)
States Consider Gas and Oil Levies
…A study released last fall by Headwaters Economics, a Montana-based nonprofit, found that Montana and Wyoming, despite widely differing effective tax rates, haven’t seen much difference in drilling activity.
"It doesn’t seem to be affecting where companies drill," said Mark Haggerty, one of the study’s authors…
Now’s the Time to Tackle Forest Fire Fighting Costs
Guest Column: by Ray Rasker, Headwaters Economics— …The price of fighting forest fires has been increasing substantially, now accounting for close to half of the Forest Service’s budget and costing the taxpayer billions. Yet we have failed to address the root causes of these escalating expenses…
Across the West today, only 14 percent of private land adjacent to forests has homes on it. But this relatively small percentage is tremendously expensive. When combining local, state and federal efforts, the cost to protect homes from forest fires exceeds $1 billion per year. If 50 percent of the forested private lands were developed, fire fighting costs could exceed $4 billion, almost the size of the Forest Service’s entire budget.
A recent case study analysis of Montana by Headwaters Economics illustrates the gravity of the problem. On average, protecting homes from forest fires in Montana costs $28 million annually. If no restrictions are placed on future home construction, the costs likely will rise to $40 million by 2025.
Climate change has increased costs even further. From past evidence, we know that a one-degree increase in average summer-time temperature is associated with a doubling of home protection costs. So in Montana, with additional development and hotter summers, the cost of protecting homes from forest fires could exceed $80 million by 2025.… (more…)
The economics of gas drilling
…A study put forward by the advocacy group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability questions the economic benefits to communities that comes with gas drilling in terms of economic development.
The study, or series of reports, was performed by Headwaters Economics, a Montana-based nonprofit research group, and examined counties in the Western United States with an economic focus on oil and gas extraction and other forms of mining. It compared those counties to others of similar size (populations of 57,000 or less) that had broader-based economies.
In a summary about the prospects of using oil, gas or coal as a strategy for growth, the study reported that counties that used that strategy “under-performed” other similar counties in several important areas that impact the economy, including the incomes of workers in non-energy jobs, economic diversity and the education level of the population.
The study, which was made public in the fall of 2008, can be found at Headwaters Economics: Energy.
The study gives specific examples of how gas extraction is currently affecting two counties on Colorado’s West Slope. It says, “On the positive side, energy development on the West Slope has created new economic opportunities, reduced unemployment, spurred rapid in-migration, and raised wages for many workers. On the negative, fast growth has exacerbated inflation, housing, and commuting pressures; contributed to a growing wage and wealth gap; and made it more difficult for other industries to thrive.”… (more…)
Can America’s West stay wild?
…With its expanses of relatively pristine nature and a modern infrastructure, the US West is unique, says Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit in Bozeman, Mont. The region has long been a magnet for immigrants. But late-20th-century arrivals were not, as they once had been, mostly people seeking to work the land. Resource extraction, once a mainstay, is an ever-shrinking portion of western economies.
Between 1970 and 2000, nonlabor jobs fueled 86 percent of this growth. Mining, timber, and agriculture (including ranching) contributed only 1 percent. Now, 93 percent of jobs in the West have no direct link to public lands, says Rasker. But wilderness areas, in conjunction with infrastructure like airports, correlated closely with areas that saw the greatest growth.
“The major contribution is that it creates a setting,” he says, and that’s what immigrants want. Conserving rather than exploiting nature makes more economic sense, he says. People move here to live near nature.… (more…)