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New National Park Concept


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#1 Wandering Sagebrush

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 01:42 AM

I stumbled onto a NPR article about a private conservation organization that is purchasing ranch land in order to preserve the native grasses and animals that inhabit the prairies.  In effect creating a new type of private National Park that appears to be free to the public.
 

Clearly this will bring change, as well as the potential  for controversy.  Much remains to be seen.

 

Here’s a link to the article. 

Please take a moment to read

 


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#2 WjColdWater

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 02:18 AM

Very interesting article. I like the tribal take on the plan. 


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#3 Vic Harder

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 04:43 AM

I don't understand the resistance by the ranchers.  Can someone explain that to me?  I'd like to understand... 


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#4 Wandering Sagebrush

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 05:10 AM

My guess is that part of it is change itself, losing a way of life.  I can understand those kinds of fears.  

 

Our extended family had a small ranch on the Rogue River in So Oregon.   Roughly in the 70s, the wealthy and celebrities started moving in.   Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular)  bought the Ginger Rogers place up stream from us, Patrick Duffy bought our neighbor, the old General Electric Exec Fishing lodge (Genelec Lodge, then he bought all but two acres of the family ranch.  Jim Belushi bought the old Elks Picnic Grounds down stream fro us.  So, I see where they’re coming from.

 

On the  positive side, their purchases of multiple smaller ranches has been beneficial by helping to keep places from being subdivided smaller and smaller, and we see wildlife returning.  My sister has one of the two remaining acres of the old ranch, and they often wake up to 70+ head of elk below the house.  We never saw them when I was young.


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#5 craig333

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 07:11 AM

Don't we already have organizations like the Nature Conservantioncy and others doing this? 


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#6 Foy

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 07:13 PM

Perhaps some understanding of the Montana ranchers' objections to the American Prairie Reserve (APR) can be gained by considering three factors related to APR's ownership of large swaths of land in eastern Montana:

 

1) Property tax and income tax issues:  APR is a "qualified public charity" having Federal tax exempt status as a charitable organization, much as churches, the Red Cross, and countless smaller and larger charities. While being a Section 501©(3) public charity provides relief from Federal income taxation, most states exempt such organizations from state income tax as well.  And, important to the locals, all 50 states exempt charities from real estate tax (property tax).  While some large counties and large cities manage to extract "PILOTs" (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) from some charities, most state and local taxing authorities do not.  Much of the AMR's acreage at present is within Phillips and and Valley counties and each county already has vast areas of Federal and tribal lands not subject to property tax payments (but I'll be quick to emphasize the reality that the Federal government is very good about voluntary remittance of PILOTs).  Interestingly, the APR does not appear on listings of organizations exempt from property tax in either county, so either the lists are incomplete, property taxes are being paid voluntarily, or some sort of PILOTs are being made. But the point is that, in the eyes of some, there may be the notion that the state's and counties' tax bases are eroded by APR's ownership, leaving other locals to shoulder the burdens of providing county services.

 

2) Taxpayer funded "outside influences":  As a qualified charity, APR can receive tax-deductible contributions from individuals and corporations.  The linked article emphasizes this as an essential fact.  With regards to high income individuals residing in high income tax rate states, the combined Federal and state income tax rate approaches 50%.  What the tax deduction issue then becomes is the reality that the Federal government and many non-Montana states provide up to half of the funding to APR by reducing donor's personal tax bills by 50% of the gross donations they contribute to the APR.. The taxing authorities do so just as they provide some level of funding to the local's churches and local civic leagues, but with median incomes in rural Montana being quite modest, the proportional influence is tiny compared to what APR's donors receive.  So the locals' outlooks may include "those rich Hollywood folks and their money plus the Gummint's money are coming into Montana and pushing us around".  And to some degree, the locals probably have a case.

 

3) Free use of the lands--what's wrong with that?: Charities can be expected to charge user fees to cover their operating costs whenever necessary and practical.  I would not assume APR will allow free use of their lands forever.  Their doing so at the present may be a loss leader.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but support of the APR concept including "free use" assumptions seems unlikely to be the case long-term.

 

As Wandering Sagebrush mentioned, resistance to change is a common emotion.  Add to that the fact that ranching, oil and gas, and mining communities in eastern Montana know all too well how outside interests, and their moneys, have changed western Montana over the last few decades, and reluctance or even resistance can be expected, even if not fully understood or supported by others.

 

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#7 Wandering Sagebrush

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 09:34 PM

Foy, great insight.  Thanks.  The declining tax base is an issue I forgot.  


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#8 Vic Harder

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Posted 12 December 2019 - 12:04 AM

very helpful.  Regional knowledge is priceless. Furiners like this Canuck haven't a clue sometimes.  Thanks again.


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#9 rando

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Posted 12 December 2019 - 01:42 AM

The Nature Conservancy has been making these sort of land purchases and the creation of easements for a long time.  I think what is different for the APR is the scale of it - if completed it would be much bigger than any Nature Conservancy project that I am aware of.  

 

From reading the article, it appears that the objections to this are more philosophical than practical.  There are more details in this article: https://mountainjour...property-rights

 

It is important to note that the APR is only purchasing land at market value from willing sellers.   Given the strong libertarian and property-rights ethos in much of Montana, I find many of the objections to the APR to be a bit hypocritical.   The population and economic decline in rural Montana began long before APR came into the picture, and at least APR is a ready and willing buyer for those that do want to sell.  There is also the possibility that the APR will provide a new financial boon as the reserve grows and becomes a draw for tourists and sportsman. 


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#10 Foy

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Posted 12 December 2019 - 01:23 PM

The long and detailed article from PERC which rando attached sheds more and very good light on the overall APR process.  The APR is acquiring deeded ranchlands as well as the BLM grazing leases for adjacent Federal lands attached thereto. APR cannot acquire the leases without committing to use the leased lands in the manner intended--grazing domestic livestock by persons or organizations engaged in the livestock business.  Bison are deemed to be livestock under Montana law but the conversion of the acquired grazing leases from cattle grazing to bison grazing requires BLM review and approval.  Towards the end of the article, it is mentioned that APR pays property tax on its deeded acreage so there is no removal of taxable acreage from the counties' property tax bases.  That explains absence of APR lands from the "exempt" rolls in Valley and Phillips counties which I scrolled yesterday.  What's implied is that APR engages in some for-profit activities in the form of raising bison, which explains how the grazing leases can be acquired and the deeded lands remaining on the property tax rolls.  Nonprofits and charitable nonprofits engage in for-profit activities readily and legitimately while still maintaining their tax exempt status by properly identifying the nature and extent of their for-profit activities as "UBTI" (Unrelated Business Taxable Income) on their nonprofit tax returns and by paying income tax on such profits.  Qualified public charities like APR file a Form 990 income tax return annually and the returns are public documents readily available to anyone interested in reviewing the activities of the charity.  It seems clear to me that APR must be doing a pretty slick balancing act between the for-profit livestock business and their core charitable purpose.  One might assume the "dance" related to the APR being "engaged in the livestock business" will at some point come to an end once the acquisition of deeded acres creates a sufficient degree of densely packed deeded tracts such that the BLM grazing leases become unattractive to other for-profit livestock operations due to wide separation from their own deeded acreage. One might imagine the BLM would then administratively remove the lands from the pool of grazing lease acreage and allow access by the APR through easements.  If that's the ultimate endgame, it's a pretty slick model.  And it totally validates the local's complaint about there being a "Federal land grab" in process. I have no strong opinion that views alleging a Federal land grab are right or wrong, but I do like to understand what the game is all about and how it's played.

 

Foy


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