Urban sprawl collides with drought, wildfire risk across the West

Jun 5, 2023

In Western states, demand for more housing is running up against the challenges of water availability and wildfire risk, both of which are increasingly exacerbated by climate change. Last week, state officials in Arizona announced that the state would stop construction of some already-approved subdivisions that would rely on groundwater, citing an analysis by the state’s Department of Water Resources showing that groundwater would be unable to meet projected water demand. “Sometimes, you’ve got to give up some dreams to get to others,” said Rhett Larson, a water law professor at Arizona State University. “Arizona is in that situation with its water.”

Also last week, State Farm, California’s largest provider of homeowner’s insurance, announced that it would no longer offer new policies in the state, citing “rapidly growing catastrophe exposure” along with increasing costs of rebuilding. Allstate is also no longer offering new policies. And what happens in California won’t stay in California: other fast-growing metropolitan areas across the West are facing similar challenges as housing development pushes further into the wildland-urban interface. “We continue to believe, as a society, that if we just treat vegetation, or wildland forests and reduce all that fuel, we can continue to build homes where we want and how we want, regardless of the risk,” said Kimiko Barrett, the wildfire research and policy analyst at Headwaters Economics. “At some point, we’re going to have to start addressing the built environment, because we continue to put homes in harm’s way.”

BLM Restoration Landscapes: Hi-Line Sagebrush Anchor

In celebration of the Bureau of Land Management’s $161 million investment in Western landscape restoration projects, Look West is highlighting a different Restoration Landscape each day for 21 days. Today’s landscape is the Hi-Line Sagebrush Anchor in Montana. This landscape is home to some of the largest intact grassland habitat remaining in North America and supports important habitat for sage-grouse, elk, deer, and pronghorn, providing hunting, fishing, and birdwatching opportunities. The $6.8 million restoration investment will improve habitat and native plant diversity to help support sage-grouse and other species.

Quick hits

Colorado’s wetlands are endangered. New federal money will help protect them

CPR News

How the Supreme Court made it easier to destroy wetlands and streams

High Country News

Arizona’s water troubles show how climate change is reshaping the West

Washington Post

Water vs. growth: Colorado communities, developers struggle to juggle both

Denver Post

The battle for clean energy in coal country

Montana Free Press

What to know about conservation rulemaking

NM Political Report

How some state wildlife agencies are updating their approach to conservation


Editorial: Ruling in corner-crossing suit a victory for public access in Wyoming

Casper Star-Tribune

Quote of the day

”Nature is the planet’s very best engineer. And if we can give nature a hand in sometimes very unobtrusive ways, with just a little bit of investment nature can take over and do the rest.”

—Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning, CPR News

Picture this

Do you enjoy barbeque grilling? The cactus wrens sure do! In Organ Pipe Cactus, these birds have learned to approach parked vehicles to feast on all the tasty bugs that got stuck on the car grills. Before walking too far from your car, please take a moment to turn around and watch if the birds are checking out your sweet ride. Consider it a free service for visiting!

NPS Photo

(featured image: Housing development in the Phoenix area, Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress)