‘Yellowstone’ Brings Population Boom to Montana, Lifetime Residents Squaring Off With Newcomers

by TK Sanders

As hit television show Yellowstone continues surging in popularity, actual Montana residents are feeling the downsides of their newfound fame. Apparently, the beautiful cinematography has captured the hearts and minds of many travelers looking for their slice of Americana — to the detriment of lifelong Montana residents.

At a glance

  • Paramount’s hit show Yellowstone romanticized life in Montana to the point that many Americans moved there with dreams of Wild West living
  • Investment firms say that the state welcomes a constant stream of new residents daily, many of whom are wealthy and looking for pricey spreads
  • Native working-class Montanans are feeling the squeeze, both in rent payments and in cultural differences with their neighbors

Ginger Rice, who spent her entire life in the Treasure State, said she decided not to watch the series after seeing just one episode.

“It’s unreal,” she said. “It doesn’t portray Bozeman or Montana life as far as I’m concerned.”

Rice eventually changed her mind about watching the show; but still doesn’t like the effect the show is having on her home state. Production crews are spending millions of dollars in economic development, sure, but all of the free advertising is attracting moths to a flame. Demand for land, homes, and ranches have soared since the show’s debut.

“We’ve had an influx of all sorts of wealthy individuals looking for ranches,” Robert Keith, founder of boutique investment firm Beartooth Group, told CNBC. “They’re looking to own really amazing large properties.”

Some local organizations think Yellowstone made Montana inaccessible for its own residents

Around Bozeman, the median cost of a single-family home spiked from less than $500,000 before the pandemic to nearly $750,000. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem, too: many city slickers sought the open air of Montana over the crowded streets of urban centers.

“A lot of our clients during the pandemic, came out and found shelter at the ranches, a safe place to be and no people around,” says Tim Murphy, a longtime ranch broker from Bozeman and partner at Hall & Hall.

All of the migration is causing rents to soar, as well. Rice, the lifelong Montana resident, said her daughter’s landlord recently served her a notice saying he wouldn’t renew her lease. She’s lived in the home for more than a decade.

The effects of housing inflation are apparent from roadsides. Many families, even fully employed ones, have moved into recreational vehicles or tents. Camper vans now scatter the roads with families that can no longer afford to pay rent or own a house. Housing charity Habitat for Humanity calls the situation a “housing crisis.”

“Montana has quickly become inaccessible to those who live and work here,” said the nonprofit.

And of course, part of the divide between locals and newcomers boils down to simple cultural differences. The locals say the new residents show up, price them out of their homes, and then refuse to ingratiate themselves into the community.

“I used to love the fact that you knew your neighbors. We still do know our neighbors, but we’re not really friends with our neighbors,” Rice said. “I don’t like how busy it is. I don’t like the traffic. And it’s too expensive.”