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.”
Now that demand for coal looks to be in a permanent decline, reserves to deal with that economic dislocation aren’t there.
‘Colorado’s system hasn’t allowed those communities to make long-term savings and investments,” said Mark Haggerty, a researcher with Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Mont. “We have created a fiscal crisis in these communities. They are being left on their own.'”
Wyoming’s once-vital mineral economy is convulsing, as demand for coal wanes and operators consolidate and go bankrupt …Wyoming lags behind other Western states in terms of personal income growth, higher education attainment, and employment in high-value sectors like manufacturing.
To a large extent, those lagging economic indicators can be traced to fossil fuel reliance. A recent Headwaters Economics report states the problem: ‘Wyoming’s decision to be dependent on energy commodity taxes has caused an economic and political ‘mineral tax trap’ wherein a political culture and commitment has developed around protecting the self-interest of low taxes and the status quo.’”
Wyoming’s once-vital mineral economy is convulsing, as demand for coal wanes and operators consolidate and go bankrupt — leaving counties owed tens of millions of dollars and hundreds out of work. So it goes for Western states riding the boom-and-bust cycles of mineral dependence.
Wyoming lags behind other Western states in terms of personal income growth, higher education attainment, and employment in high-value sectors like manufacturing.
To a large extent, those lagging economic indicators can be traced to fossil fuel reliance. A recent Headwaters Economics report states the problem: “Wyoming’s decision to be dependent on energy commodity taxes has caused an economic and political ‘mineral tax trap’ wherein a political culture and commitment has developed around protecting the self-interest of low taxes and the status quo.” That commitment to coal was in full force this March, when Wyoming passed a law making it harder for utilities to decommission unprofitable coal-fired power plants.
Democratic presidential candidates are rallying behind the idea of stopping new leases to extract fossil fuels from federal lands, with the majority of the field pledging to act on the issue if elected in 2020.
Regardless of the political viability, cutting federal leasing could have broad consequences — politically and financially — for swaths of the United States.
It would take years for production to be affected by simply barring new leases, and a crisis likely wouldn’t immediately hit communities that depend on federal development, said Mark Haggerty, an economist at Headwaters Economics in Montana.
“It would probably just shift the level of activity, increasing boom impacts on some places and bust impacts on others,” Haggerty said.
Today’s monster fires result largely from three human forces: taxpayer-funded fire suppression that has made the forest a tinderbox; policies that encourage construction in places that are clearly prone to burning; and climate change, which has worsened everything.
Behind these three forces is a massive economic perversity: Society masks the costs of building on the edges of the forest, a zone that planners call the “wildland-urban interface,” or the WUI.
“In some instances, would it just be cheaper to buy the land and keep it from being developed? The answer’s clearly yes,” says Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a Montana-based research group that focuses on disasters.
Previously too-wet-to-burn parts of the Pacific Northwest face an increasing risk of significant wildfires due to the same phenomenon: Climate change is bringing higher temperatures, lower humidity and longer stretches of drought.
The risk is amplified by development patterns throughout the Pacific Northwest.
A 2013 Headwaters Economics survey of development within 550 yards (500 meters) of forestlands found that just six counties along the western foothills of Washington’s Cascade mountains host more homes in such zones than all of California.
Funding to protect working farms and forests, wildlife and outdoor recreation in Montana is greatly insufficient — by tens of millions of dollars — to keep pace with growing demand, according to a first-of-its-kind report.
“The most successful state-level funding programs we analyzed follow a general pattern: They invest in a wide range of outdoor opportunities; they are accessible to a wide range of communities; they can be used to leverage other funding sources for a net total gain; and they are fully accountable and transparent,” Pohl said.
Gov. Steve Bullock has announced his appointments to the new Montana Climate Solutions Council, a group dedicated to developing policies and plans for reducing carbon emissions and adapting to the changing climate.
Mark Haggerty, a council member and research director for Headwaters Economics, said he foresees using his work, which focuses on why some places do better than others, to help the council think through the transition to a new energy economy.
“For me, it’s about how communities adapt to change — not just climate change — but the economic transitions happening in our state in general,” he said.
I used to work as a wildland firefighter. I spent four years with the Forest Service doing that, and I’ve always maintained an interest in policy and developments in the wildfire realm. I happened to learn a couple interesting things last year.
One was, I found a report that Headwaters Economics put out, saying that land use planning could probably be the most effective tool for preventing home losses in the wildland urban interface and maybe even more so than logging, which is frequently cited as a measure to mitigate severe wildfire.