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Impacts on Socioeconomics

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Regional Economy. The affected area primarily encompasses two Montana counties, Park and Gallatin, and portions of Yellowstone National Park.

Throughout the Greater Yellowstone Area, public lands provide the basis for much of the economic activity in the region (recreation, mining, forestry, and agriculture). The area’s overall economy has been changing for more than 20 years. The economy has shifted from commodity-extraction dependence to a more diversified economy based on recreation, tourism, and service industries. For example, between 1969 and 1989, more than 96% of all new jobs in the Greater Yellowstone Area came from sectors other than timber, mining, and agriculture (Rasker, Tirrell, and Kloepfer 1992).

Approximately 10% of Park County employment and 5% of Gallatin County employment is in the agriculture, forestry, and mining sectors. In addition, some component of employment in manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and services is derivative of activity in these resource-based sectors. Most jobs pertaining to the recreation and tourism industry are found in the retail trade and service sectors of a county's economy.

Recreation and tourism are significant to the economic viability of the area. Retail trade and services accounted for approximately 40%–45% of each county’s earnings. These sectors, along with the government sector, have a strong tie to the region’s resources and would likely continue to be important in sustaining segments of the economy of the Greater Yellowstone Area.

The alternatives described in the environmental impact statement would have the potential to affect jobs and income primarily through changes in visitation levels to Yellowstone National Park. Visitation levels could be affected by changes in winter road grooming, changes in wildlife viewing as a result of lowered population levels of bison, or in response to tourism boycotts. Visitors to Yellowstone National Park from outside Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho spent an average of $840 during their trips (Duffield 1992).


A 1994 report on snowmobiling in Montana found nonresidents spend approximately $40 million annually in the state, and three-fourths of those nonresidents spent time in or near West Yellowstone (Sylvester and Nesary 1994). If alternative 2, which would include closing roads now groomed for snowmobile use from West Yellowstone into the park, was implemented, the total economic output in the 17-county Greater Yellowstone Area would be reduced by $13.75 million annually, and 333 jobs would be lost. While this is a minor impact on the overall annual $12.7 billion economic output of the Greater Yellowstone Area, it would have a major adverse impact on the winter economies of the small communities where impacts would be concentrated, such as in West Yellowstone and Gardiner. Similar economic losses during the first 3–4 years under alternative 5, and for the life of the plan under alternative 6, are expected. The loss under all these alternatives would be substantially higher if not for considerable snowmobiling opportunities on the nearby national forest. Losses of winter recreation expenditures under alternatives 1, 3, 4, 7, and the modified preferred alternative would probably be negligible.

Resident elk hunters spent $54 per day while resident deer hunters spent $41 per day. Nonresident hunters expenditures associated with elk and deer hunting are $252 and $115 per day, respectively (Duffield 1988). Expenditures related to bison hunting in alternatives 3, 4, and 7 would add to this base, by as much as $440 per day. Since a maximum of 85 hunting permits for any alternative would be expected, expenditures related to it would be only a negligible benefit to the regional economy.


Although alternatives resulting in a higher number and greater distribution of bison may lead to increased visitation to the park and associated expenditures in the area, the probability or extent of this is unknown. The converse is also true – that decreases in the population, particularly large-scale decreases such as would occur under alternative 5, may have adverse impacts on the number of visitors to the area and consequently on spending. However, the probability or extent of this impact is unknown. Surveys of visitors during 1999 indicated no clear relationship between the number of bison seen on a trip and the value placed on the value of the trip. However, while marginal changes in the number of bison in the park may not impact visitor trip values, a significant number of respondents indicated that seeing bison was one of their reasons for visiting the area.

The management of bison would involve killing through agency shooting, transport of seropositive animals to slaughter, hunting, and other actions that some would find objectionable. People who do take offense might object for any number of reasons: e.g., the killing of any animals is inappropriate, human management of wildlife is not needed, or bison do not need to be controlled to prevent brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle. All alternatives would involve bison management, and thus each would have some potential for adverse public reaction that might result in the call for a tourism boycott, although the potential would likely vary among alternatives. The potential for such a call and the effectiveness of such a boycott would be difficult to judge.

Minority and Low-Income Populations. As of the 1990 U.S. Census, Park County had a per capita income of $11,378, approximately equal to that of the state of Montana. Gallatin County had a substantially higher income level of $17,032 per person. The percentage of the population in poverty across the two counties and the state was relatively consistent in 1990 at between 15.2% and 17.1%. Unemployment in the two counties in 1994 was below the state average of 5.1% (Park County, 4%; Gallatin County, 2.3%).

Montana’s Native American population had a much lower per capita income ($5,422) than either the two counties or the state, a much higher percentage of population living in poverty (46.1%) than the counties or the state, and an unemployment rate (26.2%) much higher than the counties or the state.

Several area tribes have expressed interest in receiving bison carcasses, or, more importantly, live bison as seed stock from the Yellowstone herd to begin their own bison operations. Bison meat sells for nearly twice the cost of beef because it is considered a health food by some consumers.

Under the interim management plan, a total of 1,084 bison were killed outside the park in Montana in 1996–97. Of this total, 590 bison were shot on the spot and donated to charities or released to Native Americans in exchange for the labor of gutting, cleaning, and transporting carcasses. Charities received 77 bison, and Indian tribes, tribal members, and affiliated organizations received 513 bison (Siroky 1997).

Alternatives 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and the modified preferred alternative all would include slaughter and the distribution of carcasses, and all alternatives would include provisions for shooting bison if they crossed boundary lines (and the subsequent gutting, cleaning, and distribution of carcasses, hides, and heads). The estimates for numbers of bison to be sold or donated for consumption would range from an incidental number per year in alternative 3 to 720 over four years under alternative 5. These numbers would represent a very minor portion of the total U.S. annual market for bison meat. The impact of charitable donations or release of carcasses to tribes would generally be negligible.

The release of live bison would require quarantining captured seronegative bison for the completion of a lengthy quarantine protocol. Quarantine facilities would be proposed for alternatives 3, 4, 7, and the modified preferred alternative, and live bison completing the procedure would be available to tribes and other requesting organizations. Live animals received after quarantine would have substantially more value to tribes than would carcasses.

Social Values. Bison are symbolically an icon for the independent, wild, and free American way of life, and are considered by some people to be “a unique symbol of the strength and determination of the people of North America” (National Bison Association 1997a).

Bison embody the culture of many native Plains peoples. They are a link to the spiritual world, spiritual power concentrated in physical form, the “great provider,” and ultimately a symbol of power and strength. Bison skulls are used as altars, bone is used on traditional dress, and they are at the heart of the continuing sun dance.

Bison are important to other groups as well. To hunters, they are a trophy animal; to cattle ranchers, bison have historically represented competition with livestock for limited forage; and to many animal rights activists, they are an aesthetic and historic resource.

Written comments collected from the Interim Bison Management Plan/Environmental Assessment in 1995 indicated the public was strongly against the slaughter of bison. Ranchers also indicated strong feelings on the need to protect cattle from brucellosis. These are moralistic-humanistic and utilitarian values, respectively (see the “Affected Environment: Socioeconomics – Social Values” section in volume 1 for definitions). No systematic surveys have been conducted, but it appears that alternatives relying on slaughter (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, and steps 1 and 2 of the modified preferred alternative) would have a minor to major adverse impact on those having strong moralistic-humanistic values toward animals.

Attitudes in the Yellowstone region would be more balanced between utilitarian and other attitudes than in the nation as a whole (based on wolf recovery information). Native American values may be more complex, as many of the management actions are viewed as disrespectful or wasteful of bison.

Nonmarket Values. People place value on knowing a species is maintained in a viable state or has been augmented in some way. This “nonmarket” or “existence” value of the bison population was calculated based on results of three 1999 surveys of park visitors, regional residents, and national residents.

National results were not used, as the return rate failed to exceed an established threshold. This means actual nonmarket benefits would likely be significantly higher than those reported.

The benefits of having additional winter range outside the park and of improving bison health were estimated using survey results. Measurable benefits associated with the additional winter range were conservatively calculated to be about $4.43 million under alternatives where bison were allowed on additional purchased winter ranges outside the park (alternatives 2, 3, 7, and the modified preferred alternative). A separate analysis of the nonmarket value associated with aggressively reducing seroprevalence through parkwide capture, test, and slaughter (of seropositives) or vaccination (of seronegatives) like that under alternatives 5 and 6 found that resident and nonresident visitor values represent an estimated total nonmarket value of $3.57 million.

Costs and Benefits. Analysis performed in response to comments received on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement showed that the costs of the alternatives evaluated in the environmental impact statement would exceed the economic benefits in every case. To the extent that alternatives depend on capture, test, slaughter, quarantine, and/or vaccination, they would be increasingly expensive. Benefits were measured as the extent to which each of the objectives in the environmental impact statement were achieved. The alternative with the lowest costs for bison management was alternative 2; however, land purchase anticipated for phase 2 of this alternative would increase costs significantly. Alternatives 5 and 6 both have large costs associated with parkwide capture, test, slaughter, and vaccination operations. These costs would greatly exceed benefits, even when nonmarket benefits described above were included. Costs of implementing the modified preferred alternative would exceed benefits by about $7.4 million. This is about $1.8 million higher than the excess of costs over benefits in alternative 1.

Did You Know?

Bison in Yellowstone.

There are more people hurt by bison than by bears each year in Yellowstone. Park regulations state that visitors must stay at least 25 yards away from bison or elk and 100 yards away from bears.