Publication Date

Spring 2023

Committee Members

Henry Renski Camille Barchers Samantha Solano


Climate migration has been identified as an urgent issue that will likely add greater complexity to existing climate change planning efforts (Black, 2011; Ahsan, 2011). Existing climate migration literature has primarily focused on international migration and the Global South, offering limited applicability to internal conditions in developed countries due to the issue’s high context dependency (Hoffman, 2020). Local and municipal planners have a responsibility to pursue evidence-based climate adaptation strategies (Mitchell, 2020). Yet, planners lack reliable data to forecast potential changes to regional migration based on repeated exposure to climate stressors. To date, research has been primarily qualitative in nature, leaving a need for quantitative, spatial studies to detect larger patterns in comparison to survey and interview-based findings (Piguet et al., 2018). Within developed countries, research that integrates environmental factors into typical migration estimation methods used by community development and economic planners is needed to determine the extent that rapid environment change may alter existing migration trends. In beginning to address this gap, this study tests the relationship between wildfire displacement events (i.e. evacuation events) and household out-migration rates amid a host of competing socioeconomic factors for all vii western US counties during years 2016-2019. Wildfire displacement data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) is combined with out-migration estimates from the IRS SOI program in a times series, then joined to cross-sectional census data on county demographics to form a panel dataset for investigation. Modeling results show an expected 1.5% decrease in household out-migration rates for county years experiencing repeated wildfire displacement events in comparison to non treatment county-years. These results suggest a potential lowering of mobility capacity or desire within impacted communities for areas experiencing repeated wildfire. Whether this is linked to impacts on economic resources, i.e. exaggeration of underlying vulnerabilities, or suppressed desire to move is unclear. Direct implications for planners depend on greater understanding of causality. The study suggests that climate-related wildfire migration in the US warrants continued research, especially with focus on equity implications of unequal access to migration as a method of climate adaptation.