News

Media coverage of research by Headwaters Economics.

“The Cost of Development in Wildfire Country”

Montana Public Radio

It’s estimated that at least 30 percent of the money the Forest Service and BLM spend on wildfires is spent to protect private property, like homes on the edge of public lands.

A new report from Headwaters Economics in Bozeman offers strategies to keep that number from growing.

“Wide Open Spaces”

The Bend Source Weekly

According to “Protected Lands and Economics: A Summary of Research and Careful Analysis on the Economic Impact of Protected Federal Lands,” a report published by Headwaters Economic this summer, western counties that have permanent protections on federal lands—such as National Parks, Monuments, or Wilderness Areas—show higher than average rates of job growth and have higher levels of per capita income.

“Protected federal public lands in the West, including lands in non-metro counties, can be an important economic asset that extends beyond tourism and recreation to attract people and businesses,” the report states.

“Campaign Launched to Shift Forest Firefighting Costs”

WyoFile

Protecting forest-edge homes from wildfires will become intolerably expensive unless western communities change the way they approve development, a Montana research group says.

Taxpayers subsidize irresponsible building when federal money is used to fight wildland fires, Headwaters Economics says in series of studies. Unless changes are made in the way homes are approved, sited, financed, insured and protected, the $3 billion national firefighting budget will erupt into an unsustainable burden, the group says…

“Wet Year Still Has Wildfire Dangers”

Bozeman Chronicle

…That economist, Ray Rasker with Headwaters Economics, suggested that making local governments responsible for some of these firefighting costs might motivate local leaders to practice smarter land-use planning by denying development plans that scatter homes around the fringes of heavily forested areas.

Local government participation in wildfire suppression costs is an idea that could gain political traction, and county commissioners had better brace for it. Rural fire departments – funded by taxpayers – suppress all other structural fires. Why shouldn’t they participate in the cost of defending homes in the so-called WUI, wildlands urban interface, when wildfire strikes?…

“As Trends Worsen, Time to Plan for Wildfire in the West”

The Denver Post

The West’s upcoming wildfire season holds the high risk of again being long, expensive and dangerous, with an acceleration of alarming trends that include more and bigger fires, and increased dangers and costs associated with the need to defend private homes. Unfortunately, what we have tried so far is not adequate to prepare for these developments…

Now is the time to add a third idea that would improve local land use planning and bring a level of cost accountability to the local governments that permit new homes and subdivisions. Today, national taxpayers fund much of the cost to suppress wildfires, and local governments do not face a financial risk when permitting homes on dangerous, fire-prone lands…

“How Can We Adjust to the Increasing Risk of Wildfires?”

KPCC--Southern California Public Radio

While the fires that broke out last week San Diego County are now almost fully contained, California is bracing for what could be the worst fire season ever.

Economist Ray Rasker, Executive Director of Headwaters Economics, joins Take Two to talk about what people can do to adjust to the increasing risk of wildfires…

“Advancing Development Drives Up Cost of Battling Wildfires”

USA Today

…The interfaces are high-fire-risk regions where homes, subdivisions and communities butt up against chaparral, conifers and other flammable vegetation.

Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, an independent research group in Bozeman, Mont., said the federal government can’t tell developers where to build — that’s up to local governments — but is obligated to spend whatever it takes to fight wildfires and protect property.

“It is a classic case of a moral hazard, where you have created a risky situation and the risks and the consequences of the behavior are borne by somebody else,” he said.…

“Wildfires Are Growing, And Growing More Costly”

CNBC

…Researchers say a potent combination of climate change and homebuilding near wildfire-prone areas is already translating into bigger, longer, more dangerous fires, and none of those trends are showing signs of letting up.

“Fire is a big issue,” said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a nonpartisan research group focused on land management. “When you live in the West, you live with fire.”…

“Economist: To Save Lives, Limit Where People Live”

The Coloradian

…In a series of presentations at the Colorado Wildland Fire Conference in Glenwood Springs this week, Rasker, head of the Montana-based research group Headwaters Economics, discussed a controversial aspect of limiting fire devastation in the West. Everything is increasing — from length of fire seasons to temperatures — and the only thing humans can limit is development in Colorado’s wildfire zones, Rasker said…

“Surprising Sources Behind West’s Economy”

WyoFile

…You may be asking, “Non-labor what?” Non-labor income includes things like investment and retirement income, and medical or economic hardship payments. Headwaters Economics recently released an in-depth study of non-labor income across the West to better understand how it affects communities…

“Panel Discusses Ideas to Reduce Future Wildfire Risks”

The Denver Post

…Missing from serious consideration is what some experts consider the most effective solution going forward: restricting building in fire-prone zones.

What hasn’t been tried is controlling development,” Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Mont., said during a panel discussion on fire and the future of the wildland-urban interface Friday at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs…

“Long, Hot Winter Puts Western Fire Officials On Edge”

NPR

…Chris Mehl, the policy director at Headwaters Economics, an economic think tank that studies the cost of wildfires, says it’s good that Washington is looking for a change. “But I would argue that … also may miss the boat if that’s the only discussion rather than the future larger expenses.

Mehl says the cost of fire suppression has gone from $1 billion a year on average in the 1990s to $3 billion a year this decade. And the bigger trends are all wrong, too…

“Obama to Propose Shift in Wildfire Funding”

The New York Times

In real dollar terms, adjusted for inflation, the Forest Service and Interior Department spent an average of $1.4 billion in annual wildfire protection from 1991 to 1999, according to a report by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group. But that spending has more than doubled — from 2002 to 2012, the agencies spent an average of $3.5 billion to fight wildfires…

“Wildfire Season: Drought Conditions Could Worsen Western Fires”

CNBC

…Also almost certain to grow is the cost of battling wildfires. National costs have averaged $1.8 billion annually for the past five years, and the 2012 fire season was among the most expensive on record for many regions and states, according to Headwater Economics, a nonprofit research group.

But if just half of the private lands near public forests are developed in the future, annual firefighting costs “could explode to between $2.3 and $4.3 billion,” said Headwaters. By comparison, the Forest Service’s total average annual budget is $5.5 billion. of which $2.1 billion is used for firefighting…

“Montana Tax Policy Preventing State from Capitalizing on Oil Boom”

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Montana is missing out on the tax windfall provided by the oil and gas boom in the eastern half of the state, according to a local nonprofit research group.

A report by Headwaters Economics looked at seven major oil-producing states and compared tax revenue from wells that use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology, which are also known as “unconventional” wells…

“Wildfire Forum Takes Radical Approach to Protecting Wildland-Urban Interface”

High Country News

…Rasker’s “firetopia” may be a distant dream, yet he’s hopeful as he moves into the next phase: distilling and prioritizing forum outputs into palatable policy propositions, then presenting them to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., spring.

“As long as we’re talking about the 84 percent, as long as we’re finally talking about the undeveloped portion of the WUI,” Rasker said, “we’re making progress.”

“The Dark Side of the West’s Oil and Gas Boom”

Washington Post

…Towns around the oil-rich Bakken formation in North Dakota, for instance, have been grappling with higher crime rates, heavy truck traffic and overcrowded schools. What’s more, there’s the risk that some counties may become overly dependent on a single industry that has a tendency to bust.

Are these downsides worth worrying about? A new paper from Headwaters Economics argues that they might be. The longitudinal study looked at various communities in six states out West — Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming — that participated heavily in the 1980 oil boom. It then examined how those areas fared in the decades after that particular boom starting waning in 1982…

“Homes, Firefighters in Peril”

Arizona Republic

…The result is that federal and state taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year fighting Arizona wildfires and recovering from their aftermath, rather than spending tens of millions of dollars to thin forests….

“The only way local government is going to have the authority and the political cover they need to make these decisions is to hit their budget,” said Rasker, of Headwaters Economics.

If local officials had to balance wildland-fire fighting with funding for parks, street repairs and other civic duties, they might reconsider what kind of development they allow in fire-prone areas, Rasker said…