Montana Losing Open Space

From 1990 to 2016, the number of single-family homes in Montana grew by 50 percent, and the popularity of large lots converted 1.3 million acres of undeveloped land to housing.

  • From 1990 to 2016, the number of single-family homes in Montana grew by 50 percent, from roughly 224,000 homes in 1990 to 337,000 in 2016.
  • Nearly half of homes built from 1990 to 2016, were constructed on large lots with average lot sizes exceeding 10 acres.
  • Since 1990, 1.3 million acres of undeveloped land have been converted to housing, equal to the total acreage in Montana managed by the National Park Service.
  • Without careful planning for our future, conversion of undeveloped land to residential housing will be detrimental to Montana’s water quality, wildlife, and heritage of open space.
From 1990 to 2016, the number of single-family homes in Montana grew by 50 percent, from roughly 224,000 homes in 1990 to 337,000 in 2016. The maps show in red where single family homes were built, from 1900 to 2016. The pace and spread of housing rapidly increased in the 1970s.

Four Montana counties driving home construction

The four most populated counties–Gallatin County (Bozeman), Flathead County (Kalispell), Yellowstone County (Billings), and Missoula County (Missoula)–account for more than 50 percent of Montana home construction since 2000. This interactive data table sorts by county, homes built, open space lost, and other indicators.

Most counties seeing new construction on large lots

Nearly half of homes built from 1990 to 2016, were constructed on large lots with average lot sizes exceeding 10 acres. In 78 percent of Montana counties (44 of 56), more than half of the homes built in 2016 were in areas with average lot sizes greater than 10 acres.

Montana rapidly losing space to home building

Since 1990, 1.3 million acres of undeveloped land have been converted to housing, equal to the total acreage in Montana managed by the National Park Service.

Loss of Open Space Impacts Montana’s Future, Quality of Life

Montana home construction starts declined during the Great Recession. Since then, the state has rebounded and continues to attract new residents. Home construction has picked up again–primarily in fast-growing cities, but much of it in more rural areas of Montana as well.

The tendency to build on large residential lots—with parcels of 10, 20, and even 40 acres in size—is quickly changing Montana’s culture, economy, and natural resources. Large lot development poses challenges for wildlife, water quality, and the state’s heritage of wide open lands.

Fortunately, vast areas of undeveloped land remain and Montanans can contain the negative impacts of growth through careful discussion, coordination, and planning.

Update (Apr. 4 2018): This post updates earlier research on home construction across Montana. Map sequencer based on an interactive for Reveal’s “Built to Burn.”