The Effects of Wildfire Destruction on Migration in the United States


Mencoff Hall 205

Kathryn McConnell, Postdoctoral Research Associate, PSTC

Abstract: The scale of wildfire destruction of the built environment has increased substantially in recent years, destroying five times the number of buildings between 2016 and 2020 compared to the previous 15 years. Understanding whether and at what threshold wildfire destruction influences human mobility patterns is a critical scientific and policy question, yet one that has not been widely investigated. We integrate a novel combination of administrative hazard response records, wildfire burn footprints, and consumer credit reports at a fine spatial scale (census tracts) to evaluate the effects of destructive wildfires on in- and out-migration in the United States over two decades. Results from our stratified longitudinal study indicate that wildfire effects on mobility are nonlinear, with only the most destructive wildfires increasing the probability of out-migration and minimal effects on in-migration. If the recent acceleration of wildfire destruction persists into the future, our findings suggest that we will likely see heightened human mobility in response to extreme wildfire events.

Bio: Kathryn McConnell is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Brown University Population Studies and Training Center, where she studies the relationships between environmental hazards and migration. Her current projects draw on Census administrative records, consumer credit histories, and postal service delivery data to model mobility patterns. Kathryn completed her Ph.D. and M.E.Sc. at Yale University School of the Environment, where she studied environmental sociology. In 2024, Kathryn will join the University of British Columbia’s Department of Sociology as an assistant professor.

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