5 Montana Towns People Are Fleeing as Soon as Possible

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Written By Blue & Gold NLR Team





Montana, a state known for its diverse landscapes, is witnessing a stark contrast between thriving urban centers and diminishing rural communities. While some towns allure newcomers with their natural beauty, cultural offerings, and economic prospects, others grapple with factors like outmigration, aging populations, and insufficient services. According to the latest census data, here are five Montana towns experiencing notable population decline.

Liberty County

Situated in north-central Montana, Liberty County has reported the most substantial population decrease in the state, plummeting by 9.4% from 2010 to 2020. The county seat, Chester, saw a decline from 847 residents in 2010 to 781 in 2020. The local economy, primarily reliant on agriculture, faces challenges such as low commodity prices, drought, and competition from larger farms. Additionally, the county lacks essential services like healthcare, education, and entertainment, making it less appealing to both young families and retirees.

Carter County

In southeastern Montana, Carter County stands as one of the most remote and sparsely populated counties in the lower 48 states. While its population increased from 1,160 in 2010 to 1,415 in 2020, it remains well below its peak of 3,972 in 1920. The recent growth can be attributed to factors like a newly paved road improving access to eastern South Dakota, transit fees from energy pipelines, and dinosaur tourism. However, sustaining the county’s population poses challenges, including aging infrastructure, limited services, and environmental degradation.

Petroleum County

Central Montana’s Petroleum County holds the distinction of being the least populous county in the state, with only 475 residents in 2020, down from 494 in 2010. Contrary to its name, the county lacks oil or gas production and relies heavily on ranching and hunting for its economy. The county seat, Winnett, experienced a decrease from 182 residents in 2010 to 163 in 2020. The area faces a scarcity of amenities, with only a grocery store, gas station, school, and bar, and a complete absence of healthcare, banking, and internet services. Isolation, harsh weather, and wildlife conflicts further contribute to the county’s challenges.

Wibaux County

Located in eastern Montana and bordering North Dakota, Wibaux County is part of the Bakken oil region. Despite its proximity, the county experienced a 6.6% population decline from 2010 to 2020, with the number of residents dropping to 958. The county seat, Wibaux, saw a decrease from 589 residents in 2010 to 536 in 2020. While agriculture forms the backbone of the economy, the county faces hurdles such as low crop prices, drought, and pest-related issues. Insufficient housing, infrastructure, and services, coupled with competition from nearby North Dakota towns, contribute to the challenges faced by Wibaux County.

Prairie County

Another eastern Montana county facing a consistent decline in population is Prairie County. The county’s residents numbered 1,046 in 2020, down from 1,179 in 2010 and significantly below its peak of 4,685 in 1920. The county seat, Terry, witnessed a decrease from 605 residents in 2010 to 554 in 2020. Agriculture is the primary economic driver, but the county grapples with low commodity prices, drought, and depopulation. Additionally, the absence of amenities like healthcare, education, and recreation, combined with a high median age of 53.9 years, adds to the challenges faced by Prairie County.


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