Film screening to explore the ‘giants’ of Montana land conservation

3/16/2017 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Eric Dietrich

Four decades after a small group of ranchers pioneered the use of a conservation tool that now shields millions of acres in Montana from development, a film screening at the Emerson Center this coming Tuesday will detail their efforts and legacy.

“On the Shoulders of Giants,” produced by Bozeman filmmaker Eric Ian and the Montana Association of Land Trusts, or MALT, was filmed to mark the 40th anniversary of the state’s first conservation easement, in the Blackfoot Valley east of Missoula.

There, Ian said, a handful of local ranchers found themselves worried about the potential for overdevelopment to harm the valley and the Blackfoot River, made famous in Norman Maclean’s 1976 novella, “A River Runs Through It.”

So they started looking at what was then a newfangled idea for Montana — conservation easements, or voluntary agreements where private land owners sign their development rights over to a land trust, preserving the property without involving the heavy hand of government regulation.

It worked, Ian said, and the idea gathered steam. Now, four decades later, conservation easements protect 2.4 million acres of private land in Montana, MALT says.

According to the National Conservation Easement Database, that includes more than 93,000 acres in Gallatin County.

 “It really started around a table,” Ian said, “and now it helps define that charm of Montana, it helps define the state in conjunction with all the public land.”

The screening of the 20-minute film will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, in the Emerson Center theater, at 111 S. Grand Ave., in Bozeman.


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