The Economic Impacts of Large Wildfires
- Generally, local employment and wages in a county increase during large wildfires; labor market disruptions from large wildfires are outweighed by the employment that the suppression effort creates in the short term.
- Large wildfires lead to instability in local labor markets by amplifying seasonal variation in employment over the subsequent year.
- Local capture of suppression spending is important because it helps mediate labor market impacts. For every $1 million spent in the county, local employment increased 1 percent during the quarter of the fire.
- On average, the Forest Service spent 9 percent of wildfire suppression funding in the county where the fires occurred. Amounts of local spending varied from zero to 39 percent.
- Contracts for suppression and support services are a central avenue for local capture. However, local business capacity appears to limit the ability of rural and resource-dependent counties to capture suppression contracts.
- Counties with more federal vendors prior to a fire tend to capture more contract spending locally during a fire.
- Capture of fire suppression contracts is concentrated in a few areas in the west.
Learn more about our work in Trinity County, California.
About the Project
This project examined the local economic impacts of large wildland fires on rural communities across the US.
1. How do large wildfires affect labor markets in local communities?
2. How does wildfire suppression spending mediate those effects?
3. What influences local ability to capture suppression contract spending?
First, we conducted an in-depth case study of the community economic impacts of wildfires in Trinity County, California in 2008. Second, using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, we compared the labor market trends of western US counties from 2004 to 2008 to identify differences between counties (n=150) that experienced wildfires where the Forest Service spent more than $1 million and counties that did not experience large wildfires (n=264). Third, we analyzed fire suppression financial transactions to identify where and how fire suppression funds were spent and develop measures of fire suppression contracting capacity.
This project was funded by the Joint Fire Sciences Program.