APR is no YNP
Saturday, June 16, 2018

Your View

Dear Editor,

Much has been made of APR’s grand vision of an American Serengeti and its potential game changing contribution to the local economy. While tourism and economic diversity are usually considered welcome benefits, a critical analysis would consider the costs as well.

Some compare the eco-tourism appeal of the proposed three million acre reserve to that of Yellowstone National Park, and suggest that soon Lewistown’s downtown will be as prosperous and vibrant as Gardiner or West Yellowstone. The comparison is unrealistic. APR is no YNP. A better comparison would be to nearby Teddy Roosevelt National Park with its essentially identical landscape and wildlife, including free roaming bison.

According to the National Park Service, TRNP attracted 753,000 visitors that contributed $39 million to the local economy in 2016. YNP had 4.25 million visitors that spent $524 million in surrounding communities.

Will tourists interested in experiencing the wild western prairie and free roaming bison visit both? Will they spend significantly more per visit to see APR’s prairie and bison? The economic contribution of APR will likely be less than TRNP’s current impact, as the two attractions will compete for many of the same visitors. In addition, there is a fundamental difference in appeal between the inclusive commonwealth of a national park and the exclusive feudal arrogance of a privately held reserve. A national park is of, by, and for we the people. APR is of, by, and for its owners. They let the rest of us in as it pleases them.

Yet, $40 million or so of new tourist dollars sounds like a good thing, but at what cost? APR’s proposed three million acres would have supported about 100,000 beef cows. The annual sustainable contribution of the evicted cattle industry would have been about $60 million. And, APR is likely to negatively impact hunting revenues.

As for property taxes, APR is appraised the same as a cattle ranch, which in the Breaks is about $35/deeded acre. But APR is not a vital agricultural enterprise; it is a self-described eco-tourist attraction. It should be appraised similar to an exclusive country club at market value.

And, as a 501(c)(3), APR is exempt from income taxes. Ranchers might not make much money, but whatever income they would have made on 3 million acres would have been subject to federal and state income tax.

APR will be a game changer alright, but our local economy will be the loser.

Russ Bentley




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