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Off-highway vehicles in Montana: popular and a growing part of the economy.

Montanans are enthusiastic owners and users of off-highway vehicles, with about 77,200 registered in 2013. They buy and register about 5,000 machines each year for fun and for work. The recreational activity days Montanans spent using OHVs nearly quadrupled from 2007 to 2013. Montana OHV users spend between 4.2 million and 5.9 million days recreating.

The economic and recreational impacts of Montanans' OHV activities are significant. Residents spend about $208 million per year on OHV activities, nearly all of that for gasoline. OHV users buy about 6.6 million gallons of gasoline per year. With a base tax of $0.27 per gallon, resident OHV users in Montana generate more than $1.8 million in revenue for the state highway trust fund.

Nonresidents also participate in OHV activities in Montana, particularly during hunting season. The dispersed nature of OHV use makes estimating nonresident use difficult, so we focused on Montana residents. If nonresident OHV users were included, the numbers would be much larger.

At the request of Montana State Parks, the Bureau of Business and Economic Research conducted a survey of 523 Montana households whose members own registered OHVs. Of these households, 281 of these completed interviews asking about their OHV use. An additional 200 OHV households were mailed a questionnaire, and 33 were returned. Following are summaries of our findings.

OHV Numbers

OHV owners who use their OHVs on public lands are required to register with the Montana Department of Justice, Title and Registration Bureau. Figure 1 shows the number of OHVs registered since 1995. Changes in the titling of OHVs in 2005 resulted in a large increase in the number of registered machines, as people with unregistered OHVs took advantage of the permanent license for recreational vehicles and trailers. In 2007, about 54,000 OHVs were registered with the state of Montana. Data are unavailable for 2009. There were 77,200 OHVs registered in Montana in 2013. About 5,000 OHVs are registered each year in Montana. These yearly registrations are a combination of newly purchased machines and used OHVs being registered by new owners. OHVs for commercial use are also included.

Residents of rural southern Montana counties are more likely to own an OHV than in urban areas, which have very low per capita ownership. Per capita ownership of OHVs in southwestern Montana's Granite County is 0.52 per person. In other words, about half of Granite County residents own an OHV. The counties with the lowest OHV ownership are Big Horn, Roosevelt, and Glacier counties.

Activity Days and Destinations

One measure of the sport's popularity is the number of activity days, a figure roughly defined by the estimated number of OHV users and their average number of outings per season. Since OHV riding is a dispersed outdoor activity, precise counts are virtually impossible; however, we derived an estimate using survey data. Using the number of OHVs and the average number of days the typical participant uses his or her machine, we estimate the number of activity days for resident OHV use is between 4.2 million and 5.9 million days, an increase over the 2007 estimate of 1 million and 1.5 million days. The increase can be attributed to the number of registered OHVs growing from about 54,000 in 2007 to about 77,200 in 2013 and the average number of days they were used increasing from 42 days per year in 2007 to 65 days per year in 2013.

Most OHV activity occurs in southwestern Montana, which is the huh from a participant standpoint as well as a destination.


The BBER survey of resident expenditures suggests that residents typically don't incur lodging costs and spend little on eating and drinking and other expenses. A majority of residents don't make expenditures in most of the spending categories (Table 1). Residents' median expenditures were about $37 per day, all on gasoline for machines and transportation. This number is lower than the $41 per day reported in 2007. The difference may be due to improved performance in mileage--in both OHVs and transportation vehicles.

Even though resident OHV users are not considered part of the economic base, residents spend a significant amount of money using OHVs in Montana (Table 2.) Residents spend about $175 million on trip expenditures, nearly all for gasoline. In 2007, trip expenditures were about $43 million. The increase in trip expenditures between 2007 and 2013 is a result of nearly four times the number of activity days in 2013 and higher fuel prices.

Montana recreational OHV users spend about $33 million on yearly expenses. Over three-quarters of yearly expenditures are spent on OHVs, trailers, and maintenance. These numbers show an increase over 2007. More OHVs, used more often by "super users," are the reason for the increase.

Gasoline Use

Gasoline usage estimates are important because they suggest tax amounts contributed to the state highway trust fund by OHV users. We asked each respondent the average distance traveled on a typical OHV outing. Resident OHV users travel a median of about 20 miles per day.

We used several additional items on the questionnaire to estimate and verify gas usage. Specifically, we asked three questions about each working OHV a household owned. Table 3 shows the questions and the results compiled from respondents' answers.

These results were then used to calculate the average amount of gasoline used each year by OHVs in Montana. This average amount was then multiplied by the number of privately owned OHVs. Montana OHV riders used about 6.6 million gallons of gas during 2013 and contributed more than $1.8 million to the highway trust fund, both increases over 2007 (Figure 2, page 18).

Key Issues

The BBER survey also offered an opportunity for respondents to comment on what they thought was the most important issue facing off-highway vehicle recreation (Figure 3). Access to trails was the most frequently cited issue, with 58 percent mentioning access issues. About 12 percent of residents mentioned safety, and another 10 percent personal responsibility. Many of the personal responsibility comments reflected a view that the activities of a few were ruining riding opportunities:

"Education on proper use and respect of land, not tearing up countryside with off road vehicles."

"A lot of users pick places they shouldn't go; ones that don't follow the rules are issues for off road vehicle users."

"OHV safety and land destruction through improper OHV use."

"People [are] not abiding to rules in state and national parks so the rest of us have to put up with things being closed because of their stupidness."


Montana residents continue to purchase and register thousands of OHVs per year, demonstrating growth in OHV activity. OHV users spent nearly triple the amount they spent in 2007, which contributes to the well-being of the business community. In addition, they generate significant revenue for the state highway trust fund. Access, safety, and personal responsibility are important issues for OHV users, and responsible riders worry that a few irresponsible riders could threaten their future.

James T. Sylvester is an economist with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Table 1

Resident OHV Expenditures per Person per Day
Montana, 2013

                                 Percent of
                              Respondents with
                                Expenditures     Median

Total                                            $37
Gasoline for OHVs                  100%          $12
Gasoline for transportation         69%           23
Lodging                              7%            0
Campgrounds                         27%            0
Restaurants, taverns, etc.          51%            2
Grocery stores                       6%            0
Entertainment                        4%            0
OHV dealers                          5%            0
Other retail                         9%            0
Other outing expenses                6%            0

Source: Bureau of Business and Economic
Research, University of Montana.

Table 2

Total Resident OHV Expenditures, Montana
2007 and 2013

                                             2007           2013

Total resident expenditures in Montana   $69,712,000   $207,923,000
Total trip expenditures                  $42,900,000   $175,000,000
Gas for OHVs                             $21,900,000    $60,000,000
Gas for transportation                    21,000,000    115,000,000
Total yearly expenditures                $26,812,000    $32,923,000
OHVs                                      $4,734,000     $9,665,000
OHV trailers                               1,934,000      1,415,000
OHV clothing                               2,700,000      3,628,000
Safety equipment                           1,674,000      2,162,000
OHV repair and maintenance                 7,344,000     15,208,000
OHV registration and licensing               110,000        305,000
Other yearly OHV expenditures              8,316,000        540,000

Source: Bureau of Business and Economic Research,
University of Montana.

Table 3

OHV Characteristics

Question                                   Answer

How many days is that OHV used per year?   A median of 24 days
                                           per year.

How many miles per gallon does the         An average of 27 miles
machine achieve?                           per gallon.

How many gallons of gas are used by        An average of 2.5 gallons
the OHV each day?                          per day.

Source: Bureau of Business and Economic
Research, University of Montana.

Figure 3

The Most Important Issue Facing Off-Highway Recreation

58%   Access to Trails
17%   No Response
12%   Safety
10%   Personal Responsibility
 3%   Impact on the Environment

Source: Bureau of Business and Economic Research, University of

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Comment:Off-highway vehicles in Montana: popular and a growing part of the economy.
Author:Sylvester, James T.
Publication:Montana Business Quarterly
Article Type:Statistical data
Geographic Code:1U8MT
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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