Check it out: Protecting Water from the Impacts of Wildfire… Are There Other Advantages?

By Sonia A. Hall

Firefighter looking back to a surface fire under a pine canopy, surrounded by smoke.
A recent report describes how wildfire risk reduction projects can have rippling economic effects across a community. Photo: Gila National Forest under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Being involved in FireEarth, a large research project exploring what makes communities more or less vulnerable to the impacts of wildfire and its cascading consequences, I am really interested in the complexity of impacts and, just as important, what communities, agencies, and other organizations can do to reduce their vulnerabilities. It is not unusual for the initial hypothesis associated with these questions to be that wildfire risk reduction projects in the watershed upstream and around a community have costs associated with them, and we need to understand those costs—as well as the targeted risk reduction benefits that such projects provide—to make sound investment decisions. Now recent work published by the US Geological Survey and partners explores other advantages of such projects: the rippling economic effects on a community due to an initial investment in wildfire risk reduction projects to protect their water source. Check out their findings on the effect of these projects on labor income, value added and economic output in 13 counties in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, which are in the millions of dollars. The authors conclude that investments in wildfire risk reduction and source water protection projects can support jobs and livelihoods within the local economy. Might we see similar economic advantages to projects in the Pacific Northwest? Seems worth considering.

Reference:

Huber, C., Cullinane Thomas, C., Meldrum, J.R., Meier, R., and Bassett, S., 2019, Economic effects of wildfire risk reduction and source water protection projects in the Rio Grande River Basin in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2019–1108, 8 p. Online Access.