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Coin Trick

Tourism
Economics
101

Our local business coalition (in partnership with our conservation district, the Upper Yellowstone Watershed Group) is focused on policies and trends that impact Park County's tourism economy and rural way of life, both of which are intricately tied to the Greater Yellowstone area. Annually, tourism injects $500M in to the Park County economy. To put that in perspective, our beloved and respected agriculture industry is 1/10th the size...in a good year. We need both industries; as proof, many families diversify their income by participating in both agriculture and tourism. We feel that it is important to emphasize the economic facts in light of the recent heavy arm of Helena along with certain minority special interest groups (from both sides of the political spectrum) who are turning our local wildlife in to political issues (e.g. wolves and grizzly bears). But, we remain optimistic, as we are seeing signs of engagement from some state and federal agencies.

When policy makers acknowledge the economic dynamics of the Greater Yellowstone, they can make informed decisions that support the local stakeholders who take immense pride in calling this place home. These local tourism businesses work diligently every day to enhance the wildlife, preserve open spaces and a rural way of life, sustain forests, and safeguard clean water. Why? Because they are the very foundation of our livelihood by attracting visitors not to mention the reason we choose to live here and make less money than those same visitors from the "coasts". We firmly assert that the power to determine our own destiny should rest in our hands, not in the hands of Helena.

Instead of perpetuating the current climate of "fear" politics surrounding carnivores like wolves and grizzly bears, it would be more productive for our politicians and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to engage in meaningful discussions with local agricultural and tourism businesses about the genuine challenges we face. The truth is, wolves and bears do not keep us awake at night as the primary threats to our livelihoods. It is actually offensive to have non-local politicians and urban dwellers turn carnivores into political issues when we, the residents who live on this land, possess the knowledge and experience to address conflicts involving predators. In reality, it is human activities as the apex predator that often give us restless nights, and those are the concerns we should be focusing on.

In a collaborative spirit, we ask the state (including FWP), county and federal government to focus on real efforts that would enhance our tourism economy that helps fund their labor. We need to work together on:

  • lack of enforcement to protect natural resources; we have two FWP wardens and an understaffed sheriff's office (with no agreement to help FWP enforce laws) and yet we disproportionately drive a tourism economy that results in seasonal population increases. Message to our State and County: Fix this! We pay our taxes in order to fulfill the premise that we are country that abides by the rule of law.

  • collaboration with federal agencies to address invasive plant and animal species spreading due to unbridled growth

  • disease transfer in wildlife

  • wildlife-vehicle collisions on Highway 89

  • wildlife migration corridors for ungulates and carnivores (which will protect both the hunting and wildlife watching economy)

  • intelligent land use planning that involves coordinated "say" of the locals, not regulation imposed on us by the state special interests, and DEFINITELY not the currently broken "public comment" process

  • invest in our natural resources in the same way you invest in other industries via tax breaks which we can in turn invest in to locally-backed conservation (such as easements)

  • invest in accurately monitoring use of water and land by both humans and wildlife. We can't manage what we can't measure.

  • wildlife-human-livestock conflict mitigation strategies (and that doesn't mean just shooting the animal, but we acknowledge that it might, given an agreed upon set of rules)

  • perhaps most importantly, a return to messaging a Montana "ethic" of tourism and land development that respects the locals (human and wildlife alike) and manages for "sustainable tourism". We get it. People love it here. And we welcome visitors. But there is a cost to tourism and recreational use whether it be paid or free. Our "north star" should be preserving what exists...and there should be a cost for that which markets, and locally-run businesses can help manage. But if we lose site of the cost and simply guarantee "walking in the woods" as a human right, we will lose the woods and no one will be able to walk in them, for free or otherwise.

We locals are working on real efforts, with real project plans, led by real volunteers in each of the above categories. We aren't paid by the government, or an NGO. We are paid by tourists and actually pay taxes back to the state. We need the state to work with us, not against us.

 

According to the We Will Park County survey, an overwhelming 96% of local residents agree on the importance of preserving our natural resources—such as water, air, and more—for future generations. The remarkable beauty of our region is closely tied to the exceptional quality of our air and water, the presence of diverse wildlife, unspoiled panoramic views, and vast open spaces. These natural assets are highly valued by our community, as indicated by the survey. Yet the increase in the number of septic permits and decline in the number of acres in agriculture suggest that some of our wide open spaces are being lost. Our landscapes and natural amenities are also feeling the impacts of growth outside of Park County— whether that’s due to tourism, second home ownership or growing populations in Gallatin County and across Montana. For example, vehicles at Yellowstone River access sites are up 25% in August and September, 2022 over the same weeks in 2021. Yet, the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park was closed during this time with preliminary indicators showing sharp drops in non-resident visitation in 2022. This would seem to indicate that some recreation impacts are coming from our own growth or neighboring communities, not tourists.

Ok, so you're probably asking: "Show me the Data!" The data presented below aims to provide insights into Park County's tourism economy. It begins by comparing Montana's tourism economy to that of other states, then zooms in on the Greater Yellowstone region compared to other parts of the state, and finally focuses on Park County's tourism economy specifically. It becomes evident that Park County's tourism economy, along with the significance of open spaces and diverse wildlife, surpasses any other industry in terms of its contribution. Rather than producing tangible goods, we "manufacture" experiences and rely on preserving the natural resources that form a vital part of our customers' experiences. As advocates for job growth, we expect state wildlife agencies to consider the half-billion-dollar tourism economy in Park County.

Montana's Tourism Economy

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Greater Yellowstone's Tourism Economy

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Park County's Tourism Economy

The economic data above reveals how important the tourism economy is to Montana, relative to other states. We then showed how important the Greater Yellowstone area is to Montana's tourism economy, relative to other parts of the state. Now, we will provide some data as to why and what forms of tourism are extremely important to the jobs, livelihoods, and lifestyles of Park county, relative to other economic industries.

  • One and only year-round driving entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

  • 22% of all labor income fueled by travel, tourism and recreation.

  • Park County alone generates roughly $500,000,000 in tourism revenue annually. To put that in perspective, all of Park County's annual agricultural revenue runs at about $34,000,000 ($24m in livestock and $10m in crops). Based on the 2021 estimated predation losses (of all kinds), less than .075 percent of that revenue was lost to predation. The annual "value" of a Yellowstone wolf is $500,000 to the local economy (see our study done by real economists). Accordingly, in 2022, the recreational tourism economy lost $10,000,000 in "wolves", accounting for at least 33% of overall revenue. Of course, carnivores aren't the only reason people come to Yellowstone, but conversely, no sane business would kill off one product line that is a part of its overall revenue. It's time to stop managing wildlife for the lowest common denominator and build a wildlife strategy that drives the highest possible return on investment. 

  • Lodging/accommodation wages and revenue are the largest economic category in our region. Lodging tax revenue for Park County, driven in large part to Yellowstone National Park visitation, in 2021 generated almost $3,400,000 for Montana's general fund, various heritage programs and recreational use programs, including FWP. 

  • Small business proprietors (or self-employment) represents a significant portion of all employment in Park County, accounting for 39% of all jobs in 2014.  This has grown over the last decade from about one-third of all jobs before 2000 and this growth has been entirely among non-farm proprietors.  Statewide in Montana proprietors accounted for 27% of all jobs in 2014, up only slightly from 26% in 2000. 

  • A 2017 survey of non-resident tourists visiting Montana shows the time spent on various activities ranked as:

    • 56% Scenic driving

    • 36% Day hiking

    • 34% Wildlife watching

    • 29% Nature photography

    • 26% Camping

    • 24% Recreational shopping

    • 19% Visiting other historical sites

    • 17% Visiting local brewery

    • 12% Visiting museums

    • 12% Visiting Lewis & Clark sites

    • 9% Fishing / Fly Fishing

  • Tourism's relative impact on local businesses...

    • Hotel & Motel

    • Outfitter & Guides

    • Retail Sales

    • Grocery Stores

    • Auto Rentals

    • Rental Lodging

    • Campground & RV Parks

    • Vehicle Repairs

  • Restaurant & Bars

  • Gasoline Outlets (e.g. Town Pump)

* See Park County Community Foundation website for further local economic data and Upper Yellowstone Watershed Group on local recreational use data.

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Yellowstone National Park's Influence

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All Economic Sectors in Park County

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Where Does the Tourism Money Go?

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Lodging Tax Revenues for Park County

* represents 1/2 of the overall tax collected; the other half goes to the general budget and benefits all Montanans

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2014 Tourism Spend Statewide

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