Guest column: Investment in conservation another reason to rejoice
By Brendan Weiner, GVLT Conservation Director
December 24, 2022
Our community can feel extra jolly this holiday season because earlier this week, four conservation projects — three submitted by Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) and one submitted by the Montana Land Reliance (MLR) — received approval for funding through the Gallatin County Open Lands Program. This funding enables local farmers and ranchers to permanently protect 3,700 acres of land from the prime farmlands of Amsterdam-Churchill to the wildlife-rich East Gallatin River area.
The Open Lands Program is the gift that keeps on giving. In the last 22 years, the program has invested community dollars back into 58 conservation easements in partnership with land trusts. These voluntary agreements with landowners limit development in perpetuity and have protected over 50,000 acres of open land from fragmentation and sprawl.
The Open Lands Program boasts an incredible return on county investment. Through federal funding and donated property value from landowners, the county’s investment has facilitated over $100,000,000 in matching funds in the programs 22-year history. Taxpayer dollars have been stretched and leveraged 5 to 1 since the program’s inception.
Of course, it is not the money spent, but the thought that counts. Applications for funding are carefully considered by a volunteer Open Lands Board. Members from every corner of the valley diligently review conservation easements and ensure that the taxpayer investments are well spent.
The program’s impact would not be possible without the conservation ethic and commitment of forward-thinking landowners. Multi-generational farming families from Churchill to Gooch Hill have partnered with land trusts to ensure that the agricultural heritage of the Gallatin Valley continues. Landowners gift us all with significant donated land value, long-term stewardship and a commitment to keeping their land open to protect the character of our shared landscape.
The program has a track record of protecting headwater streams and preventing development along the banks of some of our area’s blue ribbon trout rivers like the East Gallatin. Wildlife have benefited greatly from our shared investment in the Open Lands Program. In the Bozeman Pass area, Open Lands Program dollars have conserved large swaths of habitat in a nationally significant wildlife corridor, including large areas of elk and mule deer winter range and calving grounds. Hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, and fishermen and women will reap the return on this investment as wildlife disperses onto public lands and rivers.
The investment into the Open Lands Program has also brought us new access to outdoor spaces. The program allocated $100,000 from the fund to help purchase 12 acres of public parkland next to Peets Hill. It has also funded the acquisition and development of the 100-acre Gallatin County Regional Park and facilitated access on Chestnut Mountain and North Cottonwood trails.
Twenty-two years ago, a visionary group of people saw a valley in transition. Their foresight, along with the commitment from taxpayers, landowners, land trusts and Gallatin County, has gifted future generations with the quality of life that we all enjoy now. At a time of rapid growth and development, the strength and impact of the Gallatin County Open Lands Program is more important than ever. To our valley’s landowners, thank you for stewarding our landscape and working with the community to protect the landscape that we all love. Thank you to the many volunteers that represent the vast geographies and industries in our valley who have and continue to serve on the Gallatin County Open Lands Board. To Gallatin County, thank you for leading the way statewide and trusting the community to make choices about the future of our landscape. To Gallatin County taxpayers, thank you for continuing to invest in open lands and supporting the visionary landowners who want to keep their properties undeveloped, for the benefit of us all.
Since 2000, Gallatin County has shown that when landowners, land trusts, and community work together, we have a fighting chance of protecting the place we love, forever. Being part of a community that is so invested in conservation is truly the greatest gift of all.