Idaho has improved at providing economic security for its residents over the past decade, but trails significantly in energy efficiency and smart growth. That’s according to the first edition of the Cascadia Scorecard, a new gauge of regional progress released today by Seattle-based research center Sightline Institute (formerly Northwest Environment Watch). Overall, the state—and the Northwest as a whole—has made gains since 1990, but its record is marred by failures. For example, residents of Idaho, and northwesterners in general, still consume nearly as much energy as Texans; and of the seven largest Northwest cities, Boise is the most sprawling.

“Celebrity scandal and stock prices make headlines,” says Sightline research director, Clark Williams-Derry. “But to be more successful as a region, we need to pay attention to critical, slow-changing trends that more dramatically affect our future.” The report—titled Cascadia Scorecard: Seven Key Trends Shaping the Northwest—details how Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia are doing and spotlights places that “score” best in each trend.

Selected during a three-year research process from a list of nearly 1,000 candidate indicators, the seven trends include health, economy, population, energy, sprawl, forests, and pollution. Highlights of the findings are:

  • Idaho “scores” lowest on energy efficiency: Measuring use of highway fuels and nonindustrial electricity as a proxy for overall energy use, the Scorecard gives northwesterners low marks in energy efficiency. Although the region has moderated per capita energy consumption by 4 percent since 1999, the decline hasn’t been enough to budge it off the high plateau where it has been stuck since the 1970s. Idahoans use the most gasoline in the region per person—59 percent more than British Columbians—and consume the highest amount of electricity per person, 29.2 kilowatt-hours per day.
  • Boise most sprawling: In a study of the seven largest Northwest cities, the Scorecard shows that though most have become slightly more compact over the last decade, sprawl still dominates the region. Although Boise has improved somewhat since 1990, it ranks worst in sprawl, with only 7 percent of residents living in compact neighborhoods in 2000. Eugene fared better; and Victoria, BC, was most compact among midsize cities: Victoria has roughly the same population as Boise, but about five times as many residents living at compact densities—34 percent of residents. Of larger cities, Vancouver, BC, is the region’s clear leader, with more than 60 percent of residents in compact neighborhoods in 2001. (See maps p. 41–48.)
  • Idaho improves its economic security: In a positive trend, Idaho saw decreasing poverty (14.9 to 11.3 percent) and child poverty (19.3 to 15 percent) from 1990 to 2002. This was in contrast to trends in Washington and Oregon, which saw increasing poverty, even while economic output increased. Idaho’s unemployment rose from 4.9 percent in 1990 to 5.8 percent in 2002, but it remained significantly lower than rates in Washington and Oregon. Idaho’s median income also rose by a greater amount—by $5,000 to $38,000 in 2001—but remains lower than the other Northwest states and lower than the national average.
  • Northwest eighth in the world on lifespan: If the Northwest were a nation, it would rank eighth in the world on lifespan, the best single indicator of human health. An infant born in 2001 can expect to live for 78.9 years, up from 47 years a century ago. Idaho residents have a lifespan of 78 years, better than the US average, but 2.7 years below BC’s best-in-the-region mark of 80.7 years. If lifespan gains continue apace, BC will reach Japan’s best-in-the-world mark of 81.3 years in 2006 and the Northwest states will follow in 2023. Good community design and greater access to health care may contribute to BC’s longevity.
  • Population growth high, but slowing: Though the state’s population growth has slowed in recent years, Idaho’s population grew by 33 percent from 1990 to 2003, to 1.3 million people. This was the highest growth rate in the Northwest. Like the rest of the region, Idaho’s birthrate has decreased, but it still has the highest birthrate in the Northwest (15.8 births per 1,000 people). The state also has the highest teen birthrate—40 births per 1,000 teenage women, more than three times British Columbia’s teen birthrate. Since 1950, the majority of population growth in Idaho, 69 percent, has come from natural increase—or births minus deaths—not from migration.
  • New gauge of forest stewardship maps 30 years of clearcutting: Using satellite maps from the NASA Landsat system, the Scorecard tracks 30 years of clearcuts in five “study areas” as a rough gauge of how well northwesterners are safeguarding their natural heritage. The Scorecard does not monitor areas in Idaho yet, but may do so in the coming years.
  • “Body burdens” of harmful toxics: The Cascadia Scorecard tracks concentrations of pollutants in northwesterners’ bodies by analyzing breast milk in Northwest mothers for levels of three worrisome substances: dioxins; PCBs (polychloryl biphenyls); and PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), chemicals widely used as flame retardants. NEW will release full results for this indicator later this year.

The Scorecard also uses an innovative method to mark how far the region is from reaching a real-world goal for each indicator. Energy and sprawl are furthest from the goals. For example, if northwesterners continue reducing energy use as they have been, it will still take 86 years to achieve Germany’s 2001 energy efficiency. And overall, the region’s largest cities are 60 years from a goal of reaching Vancouver, BC’s level of compact growth.

To move the Northwest closer to such goals, the report recommends systemic solutions that would influence millions of daily decisions across the region. These include shifting taxes to favor energy efficiency and smart growth; comprehensive testing of toxic body burdens; and better monitoring of the region’s progress through projects like the Scorecard.

The Cascadia Scorecard is available at

March 11, 2004