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Wildfires, beetle outbreaks may boost Kenai Peninsula property values

Natural disturbances like spruce bark beetle outbreaks and fire have led to increased property values on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The study, recently published online in the journal Ecological Economics, found that property values increased despite potential risks to people and property.

Lead author Winslow Hansen will speak about the study during an online press briefing Friday, Dec. 6 at 11 a.m. Alaska time.

During the 1990s, a massive spruce bark beetle outbreak occurred on the Kenai Peninsula, located 100 miles southeast of Anchorage. While the beetles are native in many Alaska forests, outbreaks can occur when unusually warm temperatures allow them to reproduce more quickly. During outbreaks, beetles can kill vast areas of mature trees.

The outbreak on the Kenai Peninsula affected 1,500 square miles, an area larger than Rhode Island. Following the outbreak, residents were concerned about an increased risk of wildfire damaging homes and threatening personal safety. Since 1990, approximately 60 wildfires per year have occurred on the Peninsula, burning 230 square miles. Wildfires and beetle outbreaks can damage property and harm people.

The study, conducted by researchers from the UAF Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning and the University of Montana, demonstrates that the outbreaks and wildfires can create desirable outcomes as well. The authors found that property values of homes in fire-prone areas of the Kenai Peninsula have actually increased by as much as 18 percent following large fires and bark beetle outbreaks. The authors hypothesize that these disturbances increased property values because they enhance desired landscape features, such as views of Cook Inlet.

Both bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires are critical for maintaining healthy forests in Alaska, and have been for millennia. A history of fire suppression has led, in part, to aging forests on the Kenai Peninsula, which has been cited as a key contributor to recent declines in the moose population. As climate warms and fire and bark beetle outbreaks become increasingly frequent, a persistent challenge is to develop resource management goals that allow these disturbances to fulfill their natural role. Throughout Alaska and other communities in fire-prone ecosystems, a key to meeting these goals is to develop strategies that minimize the harmful consequences of disturbances while identifying and maximizing desirable aspects, such as invigorating wildlife habitat and improving views.

UAF

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