County takes first step in facilitating conservation of 3,000 acres

Laurenz Busch Bozeman Daily Chronicle Staff Writer

December 5, 2023

County commissioners granted initial approval for the use of almost $3 million of public funds for two conservation easements on Tuesday, marking an important step for the protection of over 3,000 agricultural acres near Gallatin Gateway and Three Forks.

The initial “level one” approval does not guarantee that the land will be conserved or the funding granted, but it shows that the county is willing to provide voter-approved open lands funding to offset the lost value that property owners would incur by establishing such land protections in perpetuity.

The two properties, Kamps Ranches and MJ Home Place, would conserve a combined 3,124 acres from any future development and retain the land’s agricultural nature. Both properties have extensive history in Gallatin Valley as working ranches and the conservation easements would help keep them as such.

“It’s a pretty big step,” said Brendan Weiner, conservation director at Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “To get the funds allocated allows us to go through the rest of the process.”

The two property owners worked with two different land trusts — GVLT and Montana Land Reliance — and will have three years to finalize the process and receive “level two” approval from the county.

However, Weiner and Kathryn Kelly, manager of the Greater Yellowstone region for MLR, specified that they’d like to close in 2024. GVLT is working with Kamps Ranches, and MLR with MJ Home Place.

For the county, such easements are a way to protect land from future growth with the voluntary willingness of property owners to not further develop — beyond acceptable terms — and simultaneously help large tract agricultural owners from considering selling by providing monetary gains.

“In all of our public outreach around land use, agriculture, open land and working lands are always identified as one of the top priorities along with wildlife habitat,” Commissioner Jennifer Boyer said. “We have very few ways to incentivize the continuation of those and this (conservation easements) is the primary way that we can do that.”

Voters approved $10 million for the first open space bond in 2000 and did so again in 2004. In 2018, voters extended open lands funding for an additional 15 years providing the county with around $2 million each year.

“The only tool we have is voluntary commitment from landowners to not develop their property,” Commissioner Scott MacFarlane added. “This is the only way we can do it, is through this voluntary contribution and the public likes to pitch in on that and it’s been a really great project for a lot of years.”

Kamps Ranches is a 2,268-acre property on Pine Butte near Gallatin Gateway. The combination of six parcels forms a vast landscape of grasslands that have been used for wheat and barley production and cattle operations.

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