Montana loses with each acquisition of an American Prairie Reserve

American Prairie Reserve has been bragging about recent ranch purchases in Phillips County. What they don't tell you is that these purchases come at a cost to you and every other Montanan.

It's important to think about what we lose when American Prairie Reserve takes land out of agricultural production. Most unfortunate of all, we lose the next generation of family ranchers whose job it is to grow food. The dangerous decline in American agricultural production over the past few decades will be accelerated if we allow nonprofit groups to buy up prime ranch land in Montana. No wonder food prices are rising so much.

Our communities also lose the families who work on these farms. These families fill our schools and provide goods and services that are needed, creating customers for the businesses in our agricultural towns. Without these families, schools and communities suffer and shrink. It is a devastating economic and cultural loss.

But if that seems too far away to worry about, do you realize that tax revenue from those properties is also lost? That's a loss that affects everyone. Half of Montana's state budget comes from income tax revenue, and American Prairie Reserve pays zero of it. In 2022, American Prairie Reserve reported $63 million in tax-free revenue.

And it's not just that they're exempt from paying their fair share, American Prairie Reserve has also positioned itself to receive tax dollars from Montana's general fund. That's because, as a nonprofit organization, the donations they receive are deductible and result in a lower income tax liability for their donors.

APR sells luxury “glamping” trips on their property, complete with a private chef. In 2022, they reported making $140,000 from these tours, on which they paid no taxes. American Prairie Reserve also (currently) leases part of their property to ranchers for grazing. They report making nearly $500,000 annually in rental income—again, all of which is profit on which they pay no income tax. And to make matters worse, in 2022, American Prairie Reserve claimed $843,000 in federal tax credits—even though they pay zero dollars in federal income tax!

If ranching families had the benefit of tax-free income, how much wealthier would they be? Would they be able to make ends meet more easily, so that selling the family inheritance would not even be an option? And what about gifts of money from donors? If a generous soul wanted to give money to a ranching family to pay off debts, the rancher would have to report it as income and pay an astronomical gift tax. The donor would receive no tax benefit for his generosity.

American Prairie Reserve is committed to destroying vibrant Montana communities full of hard-working families. Their radical plan is to give the land over to wild animals and the elite class who can pay to pretend to coexist with them. They and all other taxpayers are forced to subsidize this nonprofit venture.

The bigger they get, the more of the tax burden is passed on to all of us. The land American Prairie Reserve is acquiring will never be privately owned again. That land will never produce food for Americans again. And that land will never feed a family again. While American Prairie Reserve brags about what they've gained with each new ranch they buy, the rest of us should be thinking about what we're losing.

Chuck Denowh is CEO of United Property Owners of Montana.

Anna Harden

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