The American Redoubt: America’s Empty Quarter

A major part of my consulting work revolves around relocation and retreat property selection, for my clients. When I have conversations with clients from the eastern United States, they often have difficulty grasping just how empty The American Redoubt is. Their view of “The West” is often skewed by the teeming masses of California that they see on television.

I’d like to quantify, describe, and anecdotally illustrate the American Redoubt in this brief article.  As our friend Joerg Sprave would say: “Let me tell you about its features.”

Vast and Lightly-Populated

First, let’s discuss basic geography. The American Redoubt consists of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the eastern halves of both Oregon and Washington. This is a vast and lightly-populated region. The region is dominated by the northern Rocky Mountains. The terrain varies from wide open prairies to steep mountainous canyons.

The driving distances in the Redoubt can be daunting. For example, it takes nearly 14 hours to drive across the width of Montana. Some Redoubters have work commute distances of more than 60 miles, twice a day, five days a week. A lot of places are truly remote. If you lived in Winnett, Montana, the nearest Walmart would be 85 miles away, in Billings. Thankfully, the speed limits on the Interstate freeways are as high as 80 miles per hour.  For folks in Dubois, Wyoming, it is 193 miles (2 hours and 50 minutes, in good weather) to the nearest good-sized city, for shopping. That is Casper  — the second largest city in the state, and Casper has a population of just under 60,000. If you lived in Augusta, Montana, driving to Kalispell, Montana for shopping would take you 3 hours and 5 minutes, in good weather. This is because Augusta sits on the east side of the roadless 1.5 million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness area. The straight-line distance from Augusta to Kalispell is only 100 miles, but the road distance between them is 198 miles.

Idaho has the most designated wilderness land of any of the “Lower 48” continental United States (CONUS.)  The largest of these is the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness Area: 2,366,827 acres. (That Wilderness is bigger than Delaware.) Transiting the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness Area from the little off-grid hamlet of Shoup, Idaho, west to Riggins, Idaho, is normally done only in one direction, downstream, by whitewater raft. (Hence the name “River of No Return.”) But driving from Shoup to Riggins takes 6 hours and 35 minutes via the shortest route, even though the straight-line distance is only 98 miles. Driving around that big roadless wilderness does take a while!
Some Statistics

Surface Areas:

Idaho: 83,569 square miles

Montana:  147,040 square miles

Wyoming: 97,813 square miles

Eastern Oregon: About 45,000 square miles

Eastern Washington: About 40,000 square miles

Population and Population Densities:

Idaho: 1,634,000 (22 people per square mile)

Montana: 1,024,000 (7.5 people per square mile)

Wyoming: 584,000 (6 people per square mile)

Eastern Oregon:  About 300,000 (6.5 people per square mile).

Note: Nearly half of the population of Eastern Oregon lives within a 50-mile radius of the city of Bend.

Eastern Washington: About 475,000 (11 people per square mile).

Note:  More than half of the population of Eastern Washington resides in Spokane or in the Tri-Cities.  This leaves the rest of eastern Washington very lightly populated. For example, Ferry County has just 7,178 people. (3.5 people per square mile)

To put those figures in perspective:

  • The average population density for the 48 contiguous states (CONUS) is 111 people per square mile.
  • The population density of Pennsylvania and Ohio are both around 285 people per square mile.
  • The population density of Tennessee is 159 people per square mile.
  • The population density of Texas is 103 people per square mile.


  • The entire population of Wyoming is less than the population of metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia.
  • You could fit 10 and a half Vermonts in the landmass of Wyoming.
  • Illinois has 12.5 times as many residents as Montana.
  • Owyhee County, Idaho — Idaho’s second-largest county — has a population density of 1.48 people per square mile and measures 7,665 square miles. That county is four times the size of the state of Delaware, and a little bigger than New Jersey. (And notably, New Jersey’s population density is 1,215 people per square mile.)
Power Generation

The American Redoubt region is blessed with lots of energy sources: hydroelectric, wind, coal, oil, and natural gas. There is also some geothermal potential, but that is largely untapped. Unlike the eastern states that are mostly net energy importers, the American Redoubt is a net energy exporter.

Grand Coulee Dam - Hydroelectric - RedoubtThe swath of hydroelectric dams that runs from north-central Washington to western Montana produces a tremendous amount of low-cost electricity. Much of this power is exported via high-tension lines operated by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).  When sold at wholesale rates to large customers like local grid utilities/co-ops, mines, and computer data centers, the cost of BPA power is less than 7.25 cents per kilowatt hour. This low cost is passed on to retail consumers. Home utility rates for electricity in the American Redoubt are less than half of what customers pay on the west coast. Typically, this is only about 9 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour.


Other key blessings of the American Redoubt are its huge expanses of forests and grasslands. Although US Forest Service policies have reduced the timber harvest by two-thirds since the late 1970s, the region’s trees are still growing, and represent a huge, underutilized resource.


The region’s cattle numbers are also staggering.

  • Montana has 2,550,000 cattle. That is about 2.5 cows per state resident.
  • Idaho has 2,190,000 cattle. That is about 1.3 cows per state resident.
  • Wyoming has 1,270,000 cattle. That is about 2.2 cows per state resident.

Even with the advent of Chronic Wasting Disease that has decreased the herds by a third, our deer populations are still enormous.

  • Idaho has about 520,000 white-tail deer, and 230,000 mule deer.
  • Montana has about 213,000 white-tail deer and 300,000 mule deer.
  • Wyoming has about 70,000 white-tail deer and about 330,000 mule deer.
Public Lands

Land is relatively expensive in the American Redoubt.  One reason for this is because so much of the land is Federally-owned, or state land. Thus, there is congressionally-created private land scarcity. To wit:

  • Almost 62% of Idaho is publicly owned.
  • 29% of Montana is publicly owned. Most of the Federally-managed forest land is in the western third of the state.
  • 48% of Wyoming is publicly owned. Federal government holdings include BLM land, national forests, Yellowstone National Park, a National Grassland, and an Air Force base.
Demographics and Politics

The population of the American Redoubt is fairly homogeneous, with very little strife. One downside to this is that it is hard to find good ethnic restaurants. We simply don’t have many ethnic populations. Two exceptions:

  • American Indian Reservations.
  • Some Mexican-Americans in Southern Idaho’s farming country and in the Tri-Cities region of southwestern Washington.

Otherwise, the American Redoubt is almost boringly and blandly “Vanilla”. If you are into Thai food or East Indian food, then you won’t be a good match for relocating to the American Redoubt.

As I’ve mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, the politics of most of the counties in the American Redoubt are solidly conservative. The majority of the recent newcomers are also conservative.  And it is the conservative ones that tend to have large families. So, all-in-all, we are witnessing a demographic win. – JWR