The Five Public Benefits of Protecting Private Land

August 2, 2021

You’ve heard it a lot over the last few weeks: GVLT hits 50,000-acres conserved. What exactly does it mean and why should you care?

GVLT uses conservation easements to conserve wildlife habitat and open space in our Valley.  Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between willing private landowners and the land trust. Each agreement is unique and limits development and subdivision of the property to protect conservation values forever. Every single conservation easement placed on private land has public benefits. Let’s explore how private land conservation benefits you!

Scenic Quality: The most obvious benefit – and arguably most beautiful – is the protected scenic open space, providing views that will never be blocked by houses, skyscrapers, or telephone poles.

Take the most recent conservation easement we completed on the Leep Family Farm in the Gooch Hill Area. It has 360-degree unobstructed views of the mountain ranges surrounding the Gallatin Valley. The property is visible from Gooch Hill Road, Enders Road and South 19th Avenue, all public roads that will forever offer a gorgeous commute to and from work, home, or play.

Water Quality: Speaking of play, whether you live in Montana or just enjoy visiting, you’ve likely spent some time relaxing on a river. Our 50,000 conserved acres protect over 70 miles of important waterways such as the East Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers. The East Gallatin River is a blue-ribbon trout fishery but increased development along its banks has reduced streamside vegetation and impaired the waterway. After working with GVLT to put a conservation easement on their 310-acre riverside Pheasant Farm in 1997, the Crawford family completed wetland restoration projects along the East Gallatin to provide nesting and feeding habitat for waterfowl and planted upland vegetation to prevent erosion along the riverbank. As a result, the area has become a haven for water birds, upland fowl, and mammals such as otter, mink, and muskrat dependent on native wetland plants for food, habitat, and security.

Wildlife Habitat: GVLT conservation easements protect more than 30,000 acres of important wildlife habitat. One such easement is the 320 acres conserved by the Visscher family in Kelly Canyon in 2008. The Visscher property is part of an important wildlife corridor between the north Gallatin Mountains and the southern Bridgers, and provides habitat for elk, deer, moose, black bear, beaver, coyote, red fox, badger, and countless species of birds. When you see wildlife ambling through public lands, they’ve likely taken refuge on protected private lands.

Local Food and Prime Soils: When was the last time you shopped at a Farmers’ Market or ate at a locally sourced food at a restaurant? Together with farmers and ranchers, we’ve protected over 16,000 acres of productive farmland. These working farms and ranches grow food for our community and our country. At Rocky Creek Farm, which was protected under a conservation easement in 2006, local families gather to pick strawberries and pumpkins, take hayrides, make cider, and cut the perfect Christmas tree. Now owned by Gallatin Valley Botanicals, the conserved land provides tons and tons of local vegetables and meat to our community each year.

Did you know? People used to refer to the Gallatin Valley as the bread basket because of our high quality soils and irrigation systems. This Valley has exceptional soils and GVLT’s focus on conserving large blocks of farmland ensures that agriculture can remain viable and economical in this valley. With soils this good, the highest and best use of parts of the Gallatin Valley is growing food, not houses.

Heritage: While conservation easements protect tangible public benefits like habitat, water and soils, there’s also an intangible value being protected, heritage. The Gallatin Valley has a rich agricultural heritage and history. Some still call this special place the Valley of the Flowers; it was a peaceful and shared hunting and foraging ground used by many tribes. By conserving the landscape, we’re protecting the history of this place, not to mention the rural culture that defines this community. It can be hard to put your finger on it, but when we conserve land in Montana, we’re conserving our way of life and history with it.

In a recent interview with KBZK, Anchorman Chet Layman pointed out that our 50,000 acres of conserved working farms and ranches, pristine rivers and streams, scenic open space, and important wildlife corridors equal four times the size of the Bozeman city limits. With conservation easements, your dollars support clean water, protect fish and wildlife habitat, stimulate economic viability of working farms and ranches, and conserve scenic viewsheds that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Conserving over 50,000 acres of open space is an incredible milestone worth celebrating. We couldn’t have done it without you. The actions we take as a community in the coming decade will forever dictate the look and feel of our home. As our region continues to grow, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to save the incredible natural assets that make Southwest Montana the best place on earth to live, work, and play.

But, we need your help to do it.

Make your donation today. Your dollars will be doubled thanks to a $50,000 celebratory matching fund contributed by our Board of Directors.  Join us as we start the march toward the next 50,000 acres.