Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Study: Rural Western counties with most federal land are in better economic shape than rural peers

Rural counties in the West with more federal or protected land are in much better economic shape than rural counties in the region with less federal and protected land, says a report by Montana non-profit Headwaters Economics. The study, which looked at data from 1970 to 2014, found that rural counties with more federal and protected land "on average had faster population, employment, personal income and per capita income growth than their peers with the lowest share" of federal and protected lands.

From 1970 to 2014, rural counties in the top 25 percentile with federal land saw a population growth of 124 percent, compared to a 26 percent growth in the counties in the bottom 25 percent. Employment in the top counties increased 242 percent, compared to 73 percent in the bottom counties and personal income increased 333 percent in the top 25, compared to 122 percent in the bottom 25. Per capital income was much closer, with an 81 percent increase in the top 25, compared to a 78 percent increase in the bottom 25.
Differences were similar for counties with protected land. Population grew 122 percent in the top 25, compared to 47 percent in the bottom 25. Employment increased 263 percent in the top 25, compared to 98 percent in the bottom 25, personal income increased 380 percent in the top 25, compared to 154 percent in the bottom 25 and per capita income increased 97 percent in the top 25, compared to 78 percent in the bottom 25.
"The study looked at all 276 Western counties without a city of 50,000 or more or with population density below 1,000 people per square mile, designated as 'non-metro' by the U.S. Census Bureau," Krista Langlois reports for High Country News. "To be fair, the overall gains are thus skewed by a few very wealthy counties, like Colorado’s Summit County (home to ritzy ski resorts) and Teton County, Wyoming (home to Jackson Hole), which had personal income growth of 2,757 and 2,253 percent, respectively." Study author Megan Lawson "says that when she took the top 5 percent—the Vails and Aspens—out of the equation, the difference in economic growth between counties with the highest and lowest protected federal land decreased by about 16 percent. But the overall gains were still significant."

Lawson told Langlois, “We’re data-driven, and our reflex to hearing (recent anti-public lands) rhetoric is to look at the data. There are certainly rural places that are struggling, but that’s not the primary story we’re seeing across the West.”

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