Growth in the Gallatin Valley

July 26,2021

Growth. It is on everyone’s minds. You cannot open a local newspaper or magazine, a social media app, have a conversation, or look out your window without hearing, reading, or seeing something about the Gallatin Valley’s exploding population. The word is out; Montana is still the best, but it is no longer the best kept secret.

It can be fun to reminisce about the way Bozeman used to be. Who remembers when 19th was a gravel road, the Emerson was a school and the airport was only 3 gates?  But in 30 years, we don’t want to be reminiscing about when we used to be able to see moose, smell fresh cut hay in the morning, receive a two-finger wave from a farmer in a tractor, drive a quiet dirt road with wide open views, or fish the Yellowstone without houses along every bank.

Through conservation easements, together with landowners, we have successfully protected over 50,000 acres of pristine rivers and streams, bustling wildlife habitat, prime agricultural soils, and breath-taking scenic vistas. But is it enough?

According to Headwaters Economics, between 1990 – 2018, (about the same time GVLT has been hard at work) 1.3 million acres of undeveloped land in Montana were converted to housing. Gallatin County is the fastest growing area in Montana, with nearly 100,000 acres of open space developed into more than 19,000 homes during that same time.

If growth trends continue, city and land-use planners are predicting that the Gallatin Valley population will double in about 20 years.  In an article in Mountain Journal, Todd Wilkinson discussed growth with Future West planner and growth expert Randy Carpenter. Carpenter reported that in just 13 years, we could see 100,000 homes developed in the Gallatin Valley, and that’s a conservative estimate.

By most measures, growth is good. It is a sign of a healthy economy and a thriving community. It brings new thoughtful people and culture to our valley. Growth isn’t inherently the problem, but how and where we grow requires more consideration. That’s why our conservation work is strategically focused in areas with the highest conservation values and best chance for large scale conservation success. We believe that our community can grow AND we can simultaneously protect the things we hold dear.  If we take the long view we can protect the things that make this Valley so special.

Back in 1991, when we completed our first conservation easement deed on Gertrude Baker’s 181-acre parcel, she asked, “How could I ever face my resident moose when I depart this world if I hadn’t done everything I could to safeguard my land for the wildlife?” Today, we ask you a similar question; “How will you help protect this Valley for future generations of both people and wildlife?”

With your help we can accelerate the pace of conservation to match that of development. The actions each of us takes in the coming decade will profoundly shape the look and feel of this community, but the window for this kind of bold action is closing. It will take all of us, together, believing in this effort, to protect the things we love most about living here. Please, donate today. Your dollars will be doubled thanks to a $50,000 celebratory matching donation our Board of Directors.  Join us as we start the march toward the next 50,000 acres.