MISSOULA - The 2017 fire season had a major impact on Montana's summer tourist season.
A report by researchers at the University of Montana shows the lost business was likely even more expensive than anyone might have guessed.
With more than a million acres burning, most in Western Montana following lightning storms in mid-July, the smoke, fire, and evacuations couldn't have hit at a worse time for the tourism industry.
UM's Institute for Tourism & Recreation Research estimates that Montana lost up to 800,000 visitors, costing the state more than $240 million.
While a third of the visitors surveyed that did come here in July, August, and/or September said the smoke wasn't bad enough to negatively impact them, 10 percent couldn't go to their planned destination with 7 percent switching to a different part of the state.
Missoula and Flathead counties were hit the hardest by the fire season.
Even Montana residents had to change plans to hike, fish, and spend time outdoors, while 25 percent said they canceled in-state travel plans altogether.
Among the findings:
While many of the early fires permitted continued enjoyment at the National Parks, and thus limited negative impacts there, many of the communities between the parks experienced early and persistent smoky conditions that often fell within unhealthy conditions. The location and timing of the fires gives rise, at least in part, to the divergent observations in Montana visitors and park visits. As more of the state became inundated with smoke, the impacts began to spread. September witnessed a significantly steeper than normal drop off in visitation to Glacier as compared to previous years.
The report also notes:
Fires are not unusual to Montana and much of the inland northwest. It is part of the landscape and living patterns. And, according to the records, 2017 was not the worst, both 1910 and 2012 burned more acreage than in 2017.16 While we might take solace in that, the concern is now in the frequency and severity of these events. Early expectations suggested a calm fire season in 2017; however, a “flash drought” in July quickly changed those expectations.