Best of the West: Western states’ population boom; California tops for national park visitation; Colorado improves roadside insect habitats

The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting May 27, 2019 that you don't want to miss. Image: Visit Phoenix

Western states are experiencing a population boom, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Cities in Arizona, Texas and Washington were among the fastest growing in the country. 

Home construction rates are growing rapidly to keep pace with the influx of new residents to the likes of Boise, Idaho, Spokane, Washington and Reno, Nevada. Utah added homes and apartments at nearly three times the national average last year, leading the nation.

Access to good job opportunities and the outdoors are among the reasons many are moving to the West. In rural areas, places with a large recreation-related economy draw new residents and have higher incomes and faster earnings growth than places without recreation, according to Headwaters Economics. 

“We've been adding a lot of jobs in the advanced industries, manufacturing, business and financial services, technology, bioscience and health care,” said Eric Jay Toll, communications manager for community and economic development for the City of Phoenix. “Since the 2010 census, we've added around 680,000 new people to the population.”

America’s Best Idea: Visitation to national parks contributed $40 billion to the U.S. economy and supported 329,000 jobs last year, according to the National Park Service. California, Alaska and Arizona were the top three states by visitor spending, with a combined $5.4 billion spent on accommodations, recreation, retail and more. Learn how increased traffic and the “Instagram Effect” is impacting parks and surrounding communities.

Wildfire Mitigation: The West has many wildfires, but not enough prescribed burns to prevent future destructive blazes, according to a report published in Fire. The study found that over the past two decades, the number of acres subjected to prescribed burns grew rapidly the Southeast, while remaining flat in California. Learn how researchers in western states are developing technology to help firefighters flee dangerous flames.

One-Room Schoolhouse: In Wyoming, education funding is redistributed so that students can have access to similar resources, no matter how small or remote their location. Learn how the 100-year old Valley Elementary School outside Yellowstone National Park is serving its six-person student body.

Improving Invertebrate Habitats: With insect populations in decline, the Colorado Department of Transportation brought in an expert to help improve pollinator habitats along its roadsides. Rather than planting vegetation solely for the purpose of erosion control, the agency will integrate more native plants to support bees and butterflies.

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