A new study from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the University of Montana takes a closer look at the spruce bark beetle epidemic that wiped out 1,500 square miles of trees on the Kenai Peninsula in the 1990s. After studying the effects of the many wildfires that have occurred as a result, the researchers came to the surprising conclusion that the beetle outbreak may have actually raised property values for peninsula homeowners.
The study’s lead author, Winslow Hansen, spoke about it during a press briefing Friday from Fairbanks. Hansen says that since the spruce bark beetle outbreak began in 1990, approximately 60 wildfires per year have occurred on the Kenai Peninsula, burning 230 square miles of forest. And while that wildfire danger has caused justifiable alarm for many peninsula homeowners, he says the infestation may have a silver lining.
"We found that large wildfires that were pretty close to properties were associated with a substantial increase in property values, of up to 18 percent," said Winslow.
How is that possible? Hansen says the study was not able to come to a definitive conclusion but he hypothesizes that the clearing of so many tress improved the views for many properties.
Not every property on the Kenai Peninsula is going to benefit from better views due to fewer trees, of course, but Hansen says the response from residents in the “semi-rural” areas surveyed – mostly along the western coast from Nikiski down to Kachemak Bay – were surprisingly positive.
Hansen says that similar studies done in other parts of the country have led to similar conclusions. And perhaps even more surprisingly, these studies show that a larger beetle outbreak actually has an exponential effect on property values.
Although his study did not specifically target the effects of the beetles and wildfires on wildlife habitat, Hansen says that may be a contributing factor, as well. He says that a long history of fire suppression led to aging forests on the Kenai Peninsula, which has been cited as a key contributor to recent declines in the moose population.
The study was recently published online in the journal “Ecological Economics.”