Cashing-In on Wildfires

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Wildfires burn communities’ economies when forests, homes, and businesses incinerate into smoke. However, there may be a small lining of silver to that grim cloud.

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University of Oregon economists and political scientists found that employment and wages increase in some sectors during a wildfire. That small boost can offset the unemployment caused by the short-term disruption of the inferno.

“The increased spending on services related to fire suppression efforts certainly does not undo the social and economic damage caused by a wildfire,” said Cassandra Moseley, director of the Ecosystem Workforce Program, which carried out the study in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, in a press release.

“But that initial burst of money does offset some of the immediate economic damage,” Moseley said. “How the Forest Service spends its suppression money greatly influences how a community experiences a fire.”

The study found that on average 6 percent of the money spent by the Forest Service to battle a wildfire stayed in the affected community. Rural areas tended to retain lower amounts of wildfire suppression spending.

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After that initial boost, longer-term employment rates flicker like the flames of the wildfire. Natural resources and tourism are both affected which amplifies the normal seasonal fluctuations in those industries.

IMAGE: Wildfire in Santa Clarita, California in October 2007. (Jeff Turner, Wikimedia Commons)