The four counties of Rosebud, Powder River, Treasure,and Custer form the Southeastern Montana Development Corporation district. They cover a vast area of prairies, buttes, ravines, and forests, encompassing 13,280 square miles (approximately the same geographical area as the state of Maryland). With a population of about 22,000, the density is a sparse 1.4 people per square mile. Three rivers running through the district and several creeks provide the cherished water to this semi-arid climate.
This region is home to a beautiful and vast landscape of prairies, badlands, and waterways. The southern portion of Rosebud County is also home to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Southeastern Montana is filled with many natural resources such as coal, methane gas, oil and timber. With just over 13,000 square miles of land and a population density of 1.4/sq. mile, land ownership and natural resource development are key features of the economy in this region. Natural disasters and severe weather such as floods, droughts, forest and rangeland fires pose threats in this area. Floodplains exist along the three major rivers in the district. The major communities in the district have built dikes for protection from the flooding, but it is astounding how large the cost burden of flood insurance is for small communities. Miles City in Custer County had the highest flood insurance claims in Montana.
Between 2008 and 2009 there was a 0.6% population increase in this area. The population has consistently decreased since the 70’s, however in Rosebud and Custer Counties there has recently been a slight increase which is a positive change. Treasure County has seen the most significant population loss. Between 2000-2003 the Census showed Treasure County to have the 2nd highest percentage of population loss in the country. Other than the Northern Cheyenne community, there is very little ethnic diversity in this area. There has been a consistent decline in youth population and increase in senior population in this region.
Poverty, Income and Business
Over the past four years there has been a slight rise in the poverty level and unemployment rate. This region has a relatively low average wage in comparison to the state and national averages: In 2008, USA National Average Wage per job was $45,716; Montana Average Wage per job was $33,299; Southeastern Montana Average Wage per job was $28,719. On average women in this area get paid almost $10,000 less than men annually.
Housing on average in this region is aging; there is a lack of low-income, senior, and temporary housing; and at least 1 in 5 households experience a cost burden with housing. Recognizing the increase in the senior population in the next 25 years, this could be an opportunity to develop senior housing and assisted living in this area which would bring more construction jobs and diversified job sectors to the area.
Health, Education, Social Services
There is a high percentage of medically underserved communities, as well as a high population of people who are uninsured. High school graduate completion rate is relatively average compared to the state; however college and university completion is relatively low. Overall social services such as low-income energy assistance and TANF and SNAP distribution have increased between the years 2002-2009, even though population had decreased.
Business Patterns and Regional Economy
Between the years 2000-2008, business establishments in Treasure and Rosebud counties decreased, while business establishments in Powder River and Custer counties increased. Agriculture and coal mining/energy production are the region’s main industries. Health, education, government services, and small businesses also make up an important part of the economy. There are other industries such as hunting, camping, and tourism that bring in a significant amount of revenue to this region.
Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Development
The agricultural industries of ranching and farming make up a large portion of the economy and livelihood of the residents in southeastern Montana. Western Energy Company (WECo) has operated a surface coal mine near Colstrip, MT since 1968. Located in Rosebud County, WECo’s mine produces approximately 10 million tons annually. The power plant in Colstrip is the second largest coal fired plant in the western United States and is operated by Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL). Together WECo and PPL employ nearly 800 workers in the District.
In dealing with rural communities and small populations, the tax-base is often limited which creates a lack of financial resources. Infrastructure such as paved roads, gravel roads, water and sewer lines, cell phone towers, internet service, and dependable electricity and plumbing services are often a need in this area. The Miles City Converter Station in eastern Montana is one of eight sites nationally that tie the National power grids together, and increases system reliability by providing a connection between the separate grids and enhances energy exchanges and system operating flexibility.
This region has a variety of plant and animal species, a unique landscape of prairies and buttes, as well as an economic base of agriculture and natural resource development. It is important to have a high level of stewardship and environmental analysis in this area, not only for the species that inhabit this region, but also for the economy based on agriculture.
Most farmers use some form of chemical weed and insect control, which does involve some threat to water and wildlife. However the economic impacts of not using these chemicals currently may be even more detrimental to the area. Methane gas extraction is being done minimally in this region.
Both precipitation and temperature have increased which has been a trend throughout the Northwest USA. This will continue to cause various changes in the environment and in agriculture.
The Pallid Sturgeon and Whooping Crane are the only endangered species in this region.