Uncommon Ground

Migrating Geese

Newcomers are flocking to Montana as the state Legislature is doing everything it can to cater to migrating Americans seeking shelter in our state

By Mike Jopek

It’s mid-February and three wayward geese honked over the farm as I swept a dusting of snow off newly installed solar panels. A friend had earlier mentioned that this was the earliest they’ve ever seen robins in their yard.

Canada geese routinely migrate over the farm in route to Blanchard or Lost Loon, small lakes on the edge of Whitefish. It seems even wildlife is confounded over revolving weather patterns that became a sudden norm.

One week it was 35 below on the farm, fracturing water lines and freezing locals. The next it was 80 degrees warmer outside, thawing, as a chaotic vortex of weather flipflopped. I don’t yet know what kind of damage the deep freeze to sudden thaw cycles did to fruit trees and farm berries.

There are water openings appearing at the edges of the frozen lake, down in the marshy area where water often oozes. Geese seem to land in the cattails-area first, in early springtime, sometimes honking, other times ignoring us as we walk the historic trail.

On a recent walk I noted many new McMansions lining the lakefront. Our neighborhood, like so many others throughout the Flathead, has dramatically shifted over the past few years. Newcomers are flocking to Montana as the state Legislature is doing everything it can to cater to migrating Americans seeking shelter in our state.

Montana admittedly reduced the top-end income tax to attract more people from out of state. Montana outlawed many single-family neighborhoods seeking to increase housing density, making room for others. The price of condos continues skyrocketing as cash buyers keep arriving, leaving locals with less options and less say at public hearings.

The Montana commerce department recently reported that housing in the Treasure State exceeded the national median price. It reported that in 2022 only the top 20% of Montana households could afford a median priced house and that low threshold decreased last year.

Newcomers with cash money still find plenty of buying opportunities. Montana offers comfort to anyone willing to move here. Our way of life, our public lands, and our friendly communities remain an attractive lure to people seeking to get away from big city life.

As anyone who lives here can attest, nothing about Montana is free. Rents are suddenly outrageously high, the state increased homeowner property taxes by $250 million per year, and now the state taxes the tips tourist freely give to locals. The cost of car insurance, electricity, health and home insurance keeps rapidly escalating in price while state regulators simply watch.

Our state elected leaders are remaking Montana to be more attractive to newcomers. Welcome, I say, hope you contribute to community and are kind. But why is Montana making life so complicated and expensive for local workers during this migration process?

Maybe they’re simply out of touch with the real-life daily expenses facing local Montana families, many of whom have lived here for generations, some only a lifetime.

Locals will have to make do with what we got. Nobody at the state level is much helping the working stiff. On the contrary, the state is busy dismantling safety programs like children’s health insurance and free lunches for school kids, while increasing college tuition.  

The morning clouds cleared; it looked sunny, a good day to make power at the farm. I’m still in awe at how 40 years’ worth of solar engineering has transformed power from the days when I was an undergrad in college listening to lectures about energy. We’ve come a long way.

We’re not off grid yet, likely many more years to independence. We much appreciate how our electric coop sources nearly all their members’ power from renewable sources like cheap hydro. That’s amazing. Keep it up good people.