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Questions for Montana and Wyoming about MT and WY

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Mar 2, 2005
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I've been reading in USA Today a lot recently (including today) about how OLD! the population is becoming in Montana and Wyoming compared to most other states. (Is "Oldtimer" really old?) :???: :???: Ha!

They say you are in the top 10 oldest states with most of the group being on the east coast. What's going on here? Are you folks just living longer because you are eating more beef, or is it because of other reasons?

I can believe that "outsiders" moving in and buying up all the ranchettes can have an impact on the demographics, but I am also wondering about things like the average number of children in families these days compared to, say, 40 years ago. Also, how many young adults are moving out of these states because they can't make the kind of living they want to make in MT and WY. How are you going to keep the small towns alive when the number of school children drops so much that the schools have to be closed which will lead to even more outmigration?

And, finally, there are some stats that suggest there are fewer ranches now than there were 20 or 40 years ago. How do the ranch demographics compare to the overall picture for these states, and what does this mean for the cow-calf industry there? I think a lot of people will be interested in any comments we can get from folks in MT and WY. How about it? After all, we all need to know if there is going to be someone left up there to "protect the border" a few years from now. Ha! Thanks!
Although I don't know the demographics...I can tell you something about our aging population. The reasons are simple, the people pop in wyoming is 5.1 per sq mile and it is something like 79 per sq mile on the east coast. I have 5 generations of native born wyoming citizens in my family, so I know a stranger when I see one. Without exception all the new young families joining our coal, oil and supporting jobs bring two sets of grandparents with them when they move here. Buffalo,WY has an amazing influx of elders moving to their beautiful city. Its our low property tax, lack of crowding population great fishing, hunting etc that bring them from all over the USA. Demographics don't begin to tell the real story. While in Sheridan several years ago, I welcomed a family (elderly) from NY City. There were just a few blocks from the disaster zone, and couldn't get out fast enough. They said they have a married child in Sheridan, so they came. The place N of me recently sold to a successful native. He paid $530 p Acre for the land, mostly rocky hilltop.
Sooo I don't think at this time there will be any cheap land for sale around these parts, and the total for that place was over $3 M.
that buyer of the rocky hilltop has a family of 8 sons and 1 daughter all just out of HS and college. My own family is small, only two sons aged 30-40. They both make more at their off family farm jobs than we ever did, but they hope to raise their families and move back. If it is still in the family. Hope this amswers some of those questions.
Thanks for the info, Kate! Very interesting. Maybe we will get some more comments. What about the ranchers in Wyoming? Is there very much merger/acquisition/consolidation activity going on among them, or is it mostly selling out to developers and land trusts? Thanks again - in advance. :)
cannot speak for everyone in montana, but in our little town, many of the "younger" generation (40 and under) have indeed left for parts unknown.....many of our kids go onto college and realize they can make alot more money elsewhere....much less on the ranch! the families that move here usually do so for the "pretty scenery" without realizing how tough life can be in the winters, driving 60 miles one way for groceries that won't break the bank, driving your child 40 miles one way to school, the cost of living (less than many other places, but the average wage is nothing compared to other places, either)....i am 36 years old and feel as though i am one of the younger folks in this little town!! sorta sad :(
Thanks for the comment ranchwife! I'm really curious. If you don't mind, about how many kids are in the school system in your town of Ennis in grades K through 12? How many schools house these students? 2? 3? If very few childbearing-age folks are left in your area, then it would seem to me that the number of students is going to nosedive, and one or more of the schools may be in danger of closing down. If that happens, where would the students go to school, and what would this mean to the ranching families in the area? No doubt, some of the students are from ranching families.

If one or more of the schools are closed and the students, including some kids from ranching families, have to go somewhere else, do you think this would cause some of the younger ranchers to think about selling out or something like that? If a lot of the younger ranching families go somewhere else, what will become of most of the ranches, in your opinion, that are now being worked and managed by folks in their 60's, 70's and 80's? Do you know about any schools that have been closed in the past 10 years? I think the school issue is very important, and is going to be a driving factor in the evolution of ranching in the mountain west and great plains.

Thanks again - in advance!
the school issue is very big in all of Montana. There are schools closing all of the time and consolidating as funding for schools is based on the number of students attending. With so few young people left in ranching and farming, the number of kids is declining rapidly in rural towns. In this area, the ranches are being bought up by out of state hunters for the sole purpose of hunting. They don't live here, they are not a part of the community, and they have no kids in the schools. IMHO, most of these schools should not have been built in the first place, but no one had any vision of the future. The counties like Custer (Miles City) and Fergus (Lewistown) built one high school in the beginning and they seem to be doing OK, the problem with that is the travel distance for kids in the outlying areas, that leads to second homes in town for alot of ranchers, but they did that out here in 1930. The small schools with the one on one education for the kids could be good, but the small schools also have a hard time recruiting decent teachers with the salaries they can pay. I was talking today about this at the school where we were feeding hamburgers to all of the kids. If you look at alot of the population at MSU that are in AG, they are people who want this glorious life on the farm because they have never had it, all the kids from the ranches and farms are doing enginering or something else because they want the money and are tired of working 24/7. I'll quit rambling.
Tarsman, check out this link. Go to the Montana table.PDF, it shows you the stats for Montana. (farm size, age of producer etc.) :)
I live in western Wyoming in Star Valley we are getting the millionairs that have been pushed out of jackson hole by the millionairs.
Lot of summer homes for the older retired so that rasise the local age. Got a nieghbor that bought 260 acres of up and down ground with a little timber... for $1.5 mill. They might spen a week and 3 week end a year here. They fly in in a $28 mill gulf stream and he has 2 of them... his wife is a x-model and he sews clothes for a living... or his sweat shops sew clothes..
TARS.....the average grade in ennis is roughly 20-25 students, 1 grade school, 1 middle school (aka junior high) and 1 high school!! :) just the perfect size.....my 15 year old daughter is quite distressed because they have had 4 new kids move into her class since the beginning of the year....one from california, one from michigan, one from new jersey and one from oregon...not sure why they come here other than the pretty scenery (too bad the scenery does not put food on the table :wink: )....hope this helps out a little!!
So, what's going to happen to all of the ranches in the next 10-20 years that are currently being operated by folks in their 60's and 70's? If a lot of ranches are being sold for hunting now, how is Montana going to do its share in the future of expanding beef production to help feed the growing total population?

Judging from sw's comments, it sounds like you are lucky to be in Ennis, ranchwife, and maybe you should tell your daughter how lucky she is that her school is growing a little instead of closing down like so many others.

I'm sure there are a lot of enviros and conservationists who will welcome the return of some of the public lands when some of the ranches shut down when the older folks decide to quit. But what is going to happen to the ranches that are basically private land? Are they all going to sell to developers and others seeking a piece of paradise? Perhaps this is why so many of the ranchers up there are so intent on keeping the border closed and the markets up. Sounds like they know their days are numbered, and they want to get as much out of the deal as they can before it happens to them. ????????????

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