Impact of Wildfires on Recreation

Article from a radio station in Montana….

Summer Wildfires Severely Affected Montana Recreation Industry

Last summer’s wildfires made for big headlines in the media, but the resulting destruction and smoke combined to keep out-of-state visitors away, and with them, millions of dollars in lost income.

Director of the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, Norma Nickerson said the fires had a significant negative impact on tourism.

“In terms of our nonresident visitation, those fires potentially made us lose up to 800,000 out of state visitors to Montana with an equivalent of about $240 million dollars their spending around out state,” said Nickerson, who was also surprised to discover how most of those who chose not to visit found out about the wildfires. “It was a wide range of outlets, but the majority of them were saying that they looked at air quality reports. So, they obviously knew about the fires, and so they wanted to check and see how it affected the air quality. There was also a little bit of talking with friends and relatives that they had in the state, and that was a significant part of their decision.”

Sixty-nine percent of adults in Montana said the smoke affected their outdoor activities. This included 90 percent of those respondents saying activities such as hiking and fishing were occasionally or frequently affected and 75 percent who indicated their outdoor fitness activities were impacted due to smoke.

Nickerson said the information in her report is being passed on to other state officials who are closely involved with forest management.

“This was a long fire season, and that was probably the scariest part of it,” she said. “The climate scientists are saying that this is going to be our future, the ‘new normal’, so what can we do? That’s the discussion that needs to take place.”

One Comment

  1. Yet in 2017 Glacier National Park, which sits entirely in the state of Montana and had numerous wildfires both inside the park and directly adjacent to the park, shattered their all time attendance record this year.

    In fact, by the end of September 3.3 MILLION people had visited Glacier National Park, making 2017 the busiest year in park history. (Source)

    Meanwhile, according to this mid-November news release from Yellowstone National park, “So far in 2017, the park has hosted 4,084,763 visits, down 3.04% from the same period in 2016 (which was the highest on record). That makes visits to Yellowstone National Park the 2nd highest in the park’s history. For comparison, visits to Yellowstone NP in 2017 were almost 1 million more than the total visits just 4 years prior. Interesting to know that Yellowstone NP had next to zero wildfires this year and that part of southwestern Montana was largely fire and smoke free for most of the summer.

    And then there is this information, which is about the same report, but tells a much different story.

    Montana tourist numbers down, spending up, report says (SOURCE)

    The number of visitors to Montana is set to drop this year, while tourist spending rose slightly, according to a preliminary annual report released by a University of Montana research organization.

    In 2017, Montana’s 12.2 million nonresident visitors spent $3.29 billion in the state, according to data collected by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research. The first number represents a slight dip from 2016, when a record 12.3 million people passed through the state [NOTE: That likely means 2017 saw the 2nd most nonresident visitors in state history!) Spending, however, rose slightly — up from roughly $3 billion in 2016. In fact, over all out of state tourism spending in Montana was up $252 million in 2017, compared with 2016.

    I spent 30 minutes on the phone yesterday with Nickerson and we had a nice chat. Turns out the 800,000 tourist figure and the $240 million dollar figure were based on the surveys returned by 1,200 out of state tourist, about 100 of which said they canceled their plans. Not sure how you can take the survey results of 100 people (who opt in to the survey) an extrapolate that to almost a million people and a 1/4 billion dollars, but there you have it.

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