Federal lands and transitional economies

Headwaters Economics has released this update to a report discussed at length here last year:

 “Rural counties in the West with more federal lands performed better on average than their peers with less federal lands in four key economic measures.”

“This update of research from last year finds that from the early 1970s to the early 2010s, population, employment, and personal income on average all grew significantly faster—two times faster or more—in western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands compared to counties with the lowest share of federal lands. Per capita income growth was slightly higher in counties with more federal land.”

An article on “transitional communities” adds:

“Rural decline is a large and complex issue that appears to be accelerating. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, during the period between 1994–2010, 38.4 percent of U.S. rural counties lost population; since 2010, over two-thirds of rural counties lost population.  This level of decline has far-reaching national and international implications for food and energy production, tourism, and national culture and identity.”

Putting them together, it looks like public lands can be an important asset for minimizing or avoiding rural decline, if communities can get their act together to embrace this potential and plan for it.

“Particularly in declining communities where long-established residents remember the charm of life in simpler times, residents can have considerable resistance to change. This connection and preservation of the past, while a rural virtue, can impede its adaptation into the future. Resistance to any proposed solution that “hasn’t been done before” simply impedes innovation or positive transition.”

10 thoughts on “Federal lands and transitional economies”

  1. Interesting, I am curious if the increase in income in rural counties with higher percentage of Fed lands is a result of folks being employed in those communities or are they working in Urban areas and choosing to move to those locations / build second homes there? If it is a result of the latter, then I can see why their might be some reluctance to “embrace this potential”.

    • In my county on Oregon, that what’s happening: few jobs here and fewer people, but lots of commuters and retired folks with high incomes and often vacations homes.

  2. Maybe people find areas with a large component of federal land “attractive” enough to move there; perhaps preferable to, for example, industrial forest areas with heavy logging activity. Doesn’t home construction, increased land value and sales, and associated economic activity count in economic calculations as much as a mill job? Is such an economy necessarily “worse” or merely different?

    • Ah.. but is this a false dichotomy? Can trees come out of the woods and be used in home construction?
      What makes removing trees “industrial”? What is “heavy” logging activity? If it is so unpleasant to live near logging, is it OK to foist that on our neighbors to the north? While we build and profligately remodel with ….wood?

  3. It’s the same with the Pacific Ocean. The closer to the salt water, the higher the property value. The same goes for most any waterfront property — fresh or salt. Maybe Headwaters ought to look at the economies of coastal towns, such as many in Oregon, where the number of timber-industry jobs have declined as tourism and retirement/vacation service jobs have proliferated.

  4. Second homes pay the same property taxes as first homes, and a lot more than an empty lot.

    As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “You can’t fight progress. The best you can do is ignore it, until it finally takes your livelihood and self-respect away.” Or you can embrace it. America has always been about catching the next wave, or risking getting left behind.

  5. True, Jon, but, property taxes aside, part-time residents don’t contribute, much, to local economies when they aren’t staying in their second homes.

  6. Here’s an article about the Flathead Valley, a place where logging used to be an economic driver. I don’t think it’s mentioned here: http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/room-to-roam-outdoor-recreation-driving-population-boom-in-rural/article_4cd9e9a0-96ae-5836-ab91-3956615139fd.html

    **The growth here and in other rural recreation spots follows the “people first, jobs follow” model, said Bryce Ward, an economist at the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. Retirees, rich professionals, telecommuters and entrepreneurs are some of the groups that are driving the growth, Ward said. “A lot of people get off the plane and say, ‘This is nice,’ and some find a way to stay,” Ward said.**

  7. At the risk of delving into economist territory, I wonder if growth is good for existing people in communities. There may be even class issues associated with it. Let’s take a hypothetical town in a pretty rural area in the west. First people are there because they grew up there. Some people move in from elsewhere, but may not stay as there are not many coffeehouses, it is far to a hospital and so on.

    Then at some point more new people move in and raise prices and arguably make the place better (more hospitals and coffee houses). But jobs have gone from, say, logging to say, the hospitality industry. I for one, would rather work in a mill than in a motel or restaurant and not just for purely economic reasons. Pretty soon you can’t enjoy the trails or your favorite spot in the woods as they are overcrowded, and pretty soon your offspring can’t afford to buy a house. You avoid going to town in the summer or whatever is the peak season because of all the tourists. I’m sure anyone who has experienced this can add to it.

    Thanks to my career with the FS I’ve lived in a variety of places experiencing those transitions. It’s inevitable, as Jon says, but is clearly better for some people than for others.

  8. The premise of this thread is that “population, employment, and personal income on average all grew significantly faster—two times faster or more—in western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands.” You seem to ask whether those measures, and using their average, is the best way to assess “rural decline.” I know there are those who would prefer to have their old job in their old neighborhood, but that has never been the way this country works.

    I’m not a fan of growth. Pretty much daily there is an article in the Missoulian on the new businesses relocating here, many because of incentives our local government has offered. And there is another article on the problems caused by the numbers of people wanting to live here (like the ones you have listed).


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