Managed retreat, or the act of moving populations out of areas at risk of climate change-driven issues such as recurring floods or wildfires, is often discussed as if it's an option that will only be necessary far in the future. But "voluntary buy-outs"—or, when property owners affected by severe storms, floods, hurricanes apply for their property to be bought by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and converted into federal land—have been happening for decades.
A new study published in Science Advances today analyzed all 43,633 property buy-outs financed by the FEMA between 1989 and 2017 through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The study found that richer, more densely populated areas are actually more likely to implement voluntary buy-outs of flood prone areas than economically disadvantaged, rural areas.
"The finding may be indicative of the substantial human, financial, and other capacity required for a local government to implement a buyout," the study says.
Katharine Mach, one of the lead authors of the study, noted that although the buyouts are happening in areas with higher household incomes and denser populations, "the buyouts themselves are taking place in neighborhoods with lower incomes."