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Strange Bedfellows, Part II
Wildfire risk maps overlap with population growth maps in the West, much of which is stressed by extreme drought
On March 9, 2022, I posted a piece titled, “Strange Bedfellows Highlight Negative Environmental Impacts of U.S. Growth” where I pointed out the similarity of the story and messaging by the New York Times and the population stabilization organization, NumbersUSA. Now comes “Strange Bedfellows Part II” where more overlap exists between the two disparate voices, and more.
On May 10, 2022, the New York Times posted an article titled, “Here Are The Wildfire Risks To Homes Across the Lower 48 States” (below).
The article highlights Southwest Utah, Washington County specifically, and states:
“When measured as a share of all properties, fire risk is greatest in Utah. More than 5 percent of properties there have at least a 1 percent chance of experiencing a wildfire, far more than in any other state. (Only Nevada comes close, followed by New Mexico.) Utah is also one of the fastest-growing states in the country, putting more homes at a risk that, until now, has not been measured.”
The Times also states that: “The data, released Monday by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research group in New York, comes as rising housing prices in cities and suburbs push Americans deeper into fire-prone areas, with little idea about the specific risk in their new locale.”
At the same time, as I noted in my first “Strange Bedfellows” post, the organization NumbersUSA published a county-by-county map across the U.S. showing how much of the natural landscape has been developed over the last few decades. At the website SprawlUSA.com, Washington County, Utah, is depicted as one of the leading counties in the U.S. that was developed, with 55 square miles of natural landscape consumed by population growth (below).
Additionally, in a recent post in the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE)*, I highlighted Washington County as one of the places in the Southwest U.S. that is being “devoured by growth”.
Further, Washington County is the home of the City of St. George which is struggling to find alternative water sources to accommodate even more growth. In the local newspaper, the St. George News, officials recently warned that the “stalled water supply could put the brakes on the growth economy.” The climate-driven drought, which scientists have called the worst in 1,200 years, has devastated the Southwest U.S., and the daily maps of the U.S. Drought Monitor show no signs of it relenting.
So, we have this confluence of chaos — massive population growth which is increasing wildfire risk and is intersecting with water supply risk — and yet every state in the West keeps growing with the Southwest U.S. states leading the pack. About Washington County specifically, the Times points out:
“Yet even as the risk grows, so does the population. The St. George metro area, which includes Dammeron Valley and the rest of Washington County, increased by 5 percent between 2020 and 2021, adding about 10,000 new residents, a rate greater than any other metro area in the country, the Census Bureau announced in March.”
As I pointed out in my CASSE post, “Steady-state economic policies, including an ethical approach to stabilize population, are the only options that can protect water, land, and biodiversity across the Southwest.” Those same policies are likely the only option to protect people and homes across the Southwest from wildfire.
* I am the Colorado River Chapter Director for the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.