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Montana loses with each American Prairie Reserve acquisition

by Chuck Denowh
| July 7, 2024 12:00 AM

American Prairie Reserve has been crowing about their recent ranch purchases in Phillips County. What they won’t tell you is those acquisitions come at a cost to you and every other Montanan.

It’s important to reflect on what we’re losing when American Prairie Reserve removes land from agricultural production. Most regretfully we’re losing the next generation of family ranchers whose job it is to grow food. The dangerous decline in American agricultural production over the last few decades is accelerated if we allow nonprofit groups to buy up prime Montana ranch land. It’s no wonder we’re seeing such increases in food prices.

Our communities are also losing the families who work those ranches. Families fill our schools and require goods and services, creating customers for the businesses in our ag-oriented towns. Without those families, schools and communities suffer and shrink. It’s a devastating economic and cultural loss.

But if that seems too far removed for you to worry about, are you aware that there is also the loss of tax revenue generated on those properties? That’s a loss that impacts everyone. Half of Montana’s state budget comes from income tax collections, and American Prairie Reserve pays zero. In 2022, American Prairie Reserve reported earning $63 million in tax-free revenue.

And it’s not just that they’re exempt from paying their fair share, American Prairie Reserve has set themselves up in such a way that they take tax dollars out of Montana’s general fund. That’s because as a nonprofit, the donations they receive are deductible and result in lower income tax liability for their donors.

APR sells luxury “glamping” excursions on their property, which come complete with a private chef. In 2022 they reported earning $140,000 from these tours, for which they paid no tax. American Prairie Reserve also leases some of their property (for now) to ranchers for grazing.  They report earning nearly $500,000 annually in lease income — again that’s all profit for which they pay no income tax. And to add insult to injury, in 2022 American Prairie Reserve claimed $843,000 in federal tax credits — even though they pay $0 in federal income tax!

If ranch families had the advantage of tax-free income how much more prosperous would they be? Would ends be easier to meet, so selling off the family legacy wasn’t even a thought? And how about financial gifts from donors? If some generous soul wanted to gift a ranch family the funds to pay off their debt, the rancher would be required to claim it as income and pay a sky-high gift tax. The donor would receive no tax benefit for their generosity.

American Prairie Reserve is on a mission to destroy vibrant Montana communities filled with hard-working families. Their radical plan is to turn the land over to wild animals and the elite class who can pay to pretend to co-exist with them. You and every other taxpayer are forced to subsidize this nonprofit scheme. 

As they grow larger, more of the tax burden gets shifted to the rest of us. The land American Prairie Reserve acquires will never again be held by privately owned. That land will never again produce food for Americans. And that land will never again support a family. While American Prairie Reserve brags about what they’ve gained with each new ranch they purchase, the rest of us should reflect on what we’re losing.

Chuck Denowh is the executive director of United Property Owners of Montana.