Bozeman Daily Chronicle Editorial Board

August 16, 2022

Local property owners’ reluctance to tax themselves further has manifest itself in the rejection of bond issues to fund local courts and law enforcement buildings on several occasions in recent years. But when it comes to the area’s quality of life amenities — like preserving open space — those same property owners step up readily. That was the case four years ago when voters authorized county commissioners to levy up to 4.5 mills for the county’s Open Lands Program.

The program has yielded the bulk of some $2.4 million the commissioners appropriated for conservation projects during the current fiscal year. Most of that money, $1.9 million, will go toward conservation — specifically the purchase of conservation easements, voluntary agreements with landowners to forgo development of their land usually in exchange for a sum of money and future tax considerations. The remainder of the funds will go toward the maintenance of parks and trails.

This is a continuing success story. The county, working with nonprofits like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, has successfully established conservation easements on thousands of acres of agricultural land. In the past those easements have been purchased in part by using one-time open space bond issues. The 2018 issue created an ongoing source of funding.

The rapidly growing region of southwest Montana can learn a lot from other parts of the country affected by increased population density, such as parts of California and Colorado, where opportunities were missed to preserve open space. Housing developments have consumed much of the farmland surrounding many communities in those areas.

A year ago, GVLT celebrated the establishments of 50,000 acres of conservation easements. That’s a lot of land that will be preserved as open space for perpetuity. But much more needs to be done. The recent influx of immigrants spurred by the COVID-19 virus makes preserving open space from development more urgent than ever.

Gallatin County’s Open Lands Program, and the property tax levy that helps fund it, will help achieve the goal of keeping as much of the area as possible free from development.

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