Natural amenities and rural population migration: a technical document supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment
Research has suggested that significant relationships exist between rural population change and natural amenities. Thus, understanding and predicting domestic migration trends as a function of changes in natural amenities is important for effective regional growth and development policies and strategies. In this study, we first estimated an econometric model which showed the effects of natural amenities, such as climate and landscape variables, on rural population migration patterns in the United States between 1990 and 2007. The estimated model was then used to predict the effects of changes in these variables on rural county net migration and population growth to 2060 under alternative future climate and land use projections. Results suggest that people prefer rural areas with mild winters and cooler summers; thus we can expect a direct impact of climate change on population migration when areas associated with these conditions change. Results also suggest preference for varied landscapes that feature a mix of forest land and open space (e.g., pasture and range land). During the projection period from 2010 to 2060 in the United States, changes in natural amenities were predicted to have positive effects on rural population migration trends in most parts of the Inter-mountain and Pacific Northwest regions, and some parts of the Southeastern, South Central, and Northeastern U.S. regions (e.g., Southern Appalachian Mountains, Ozark Mountains, northern New England). Changes in natural amenities were predicted to have negative effects on rural population migration trends during the projection period in Midwestern regions (e.g., Great Plains and North Central regions).