It’s Time to Stop Advertising Montana

Beartooth Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Every governor in recent memory, Democrat or Republican, has jumped on the “market Montana” bandwagon and spent millions of dollars inviting any and all to “come to Montana.” Despite the fact that Montanans have a very well-deserved reputation for being kind and welcoming people, the reality is that our concepts of “elbow room” — as well as our ability to live and recreate in our own state — are increasingly diminished by the flood of in-migrants and tourists who do not show respect for Montanans, our environment or our state. Viewing the situation objectively, it’s time to quit advertising Montana and spend the advertising money — along with a lot more — dealing with the impacts past advertising has wrought.

It’s not hyperbole to say many long-time Montanans are alarmed at what is happening to our state. Suddenly, home prices are so far out of reach for Montanans it’s almost impossible for young couples to buy a home and raise a family. And while Montana’s average home price now soars upward, the per capita income for working Montana jobs has remained seriously behind skyrocketing home and land prices.

It’s really no mystery how this happened. Montana still has what most states lost long ago. Nearly all the native species that were here when Lewis and Clark rolled through more than 200 years ago are still here. While many of those species are fighting extinction due to habitat fragmentation, resource extraction, development and pollution, they’re still here — like long-time Montanans, hanging on despite tremendous pressure from what is facetiously termed “progress.”

What do those out-of-staters, living in crowded conditions, breathing air so polluted their children are increasingly afflicted by asthma, and commuting in bumper-to-bumper traffic with its ancillary road rage, think when they see the ads for Montana? One wouldn’t be wrong to suspect the too-blue skies, clear rivers full of large wild trout, majestic bison, elk, deer and antelope herds without a building in sight would be seen as a paradise compared with the typical living conditions in most other states.

The result? Those who can afford to move here are doing so. Bozeman was overrun by trustfunders years ago and now serves as a lesson in just how quickly paradise can be lost when advertising big mountains, world-class skiing, internationally famous trout streams and open space prove irresistible. Unlike our mega-wealthy in-migrant governor, those he pretends to govern making Montana wages are simply priced out of the market. Many Montanans, including those who grew up in Bozeman, now avoid the place as unrecognizable to the beautiful little town they once loved.

One of the basic tenets of capitalism — and its greatest myth — is that continuous growth is both possible and necessary. How that can happen on a finite resource base and finite ability to absorb increasing amounts of pollution is ignored. As has often been said, “continuous growth is the mindset of a cancer cell.” And much like capitalism, neither the cancer cell nor the short-sighted “market Montana” capitalists care about the consequences.

Make no mistake, fellow Montanans, we are at a tipping point. If you doubt it, just go to a state park, your favorite river or lake, or formerly “secret” hunting spot — or try and out-bid wealthy in-migrants to buy a home for your family. The choice for our future should belong to us before it’s simply too late. Halting the out-of-state advertising — and using the funds to address the impacts — would be a very, very good first step in dealing with the mounting problems before Montana is truly paradise lost.


George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.