By Chuck Denowh – Executive Director of United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM)
The ink is dry on another historic cattle ranch in the Upper Missouri River Breaks consumed by the non-profit organization American Prairie Reserve (APR). With a deal to acquire the 73 Ranch, another piece of Montana’s history and leading industry has been gobbled up by the billionaires that fund APR, at the expense of Montana taxpayers.
Non-profits claiming to be conservationists rob taxpayers in a couple of different ways. Donations to APR to purchase ranch property come with lucrative tax deductions. With their privileged tax status, every dollar APR receives leaves our government coffers with less than they otherwise would have.
APR operates as a charity and pays no income tax. After the land is purchased with the tax-exempt funds, all income generated by APR is tax exempt at both the state and federal levels.
There’s a reason non-profit conservation organizations have exploded in this state in the last decade. It’s a very, very profitable scheme. And most taxpayers would be surprised to learn that they’re subsidizing it.
Perhaps the most hypocritical aspect of APR is that they are conducting business not so differently than the average rancher, yet they’ve packaged themselves as a charity. They graze their land with domestic bison, lease out the grazing they can’t use for a nice profit, and operate a game farm where they charge people to shoot animals from their herd. They also make a nice profit on their posh glamping accommodations that can cost thousands of dollars per night.
What’s galling is that there is nothing charitable about APR’s activity. There’s no justification to give them a special tax status that allows them to be subsidized by Montana taxpayers while being exempt from income tax.
The ranch land they’ve been purchasing is already being conserved. They’re taking ranch land out of production and in so doing hurting local economies, and shortchanging taxpayers to boot.
Why is APR in Montana instead of one of our neighboring states? Because those states had the foresight to protect their agriculture against such land grabs!
American Prairie Reserve doesn’t hide that the grand scheme of idling 3.5 million acres and creating the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 is their goal. In Montana ag land fuels the $2.4 billion dollar industry that leads our state economy. APR is already having a negative impact on the local communities near the ranch land they’ve taken out of production, and that will only compound as they gobble up more land.
It’s time Montana woke up and passed a law to stop non-profits from using their tax-exempt status to purchase agricultural land, before our leading industry and countless communities and families are destroyed.