Land trust secures large conservation easement west of Four Corners

6/19/2020 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Helena Dore

The Gallatin Valley Land Trust has worked with a local family to permanently protect their nearly 800-acre parcel of land west of Four Corners from development.

The recent conservation easement covers the Visser family’s 779-acre ranch, located 11 miles west of Four Corners along Highway 84. It’s now among nearly 10,000 acres of land GVLT has conserved in the Amsterdam and Churchill areas, according to a news release.

“The public will recognize and appreciate the protection of this highly scenic property,” the release says.

The Visser family has owned the property since the 1940s. Mel Visser was born on the property, and he and his wife Marge have raised their kids there, said Chad Klinkenborg, GVLT lands project manager.

Klinkenborg said the property is unique because it’s been in the same family for generations and it’s completely intact. Development creeping west from Four Corners has started fragmenting small farms, he said.

The property is also a critical wildlife corridor for a herd of about 1,000 elk. The elk use the ranch land as transitional habitat during the winter. They spend fall grazing on the Flying D Ranch, which is farther south.

The Visser family, who graze horses on their land, value the fact that their ranch looks and works the same way it has in their family for generations, Klinkenborg said.

The ranch continues to be a working farm, and they are happy it will live on as it always has for generations to come.

“It is some of the most productive soil in the state,” said EJ Porth, associate director for GVLT.

In addition to developing a trail system throughout the Gallatin Valley, the nonprofit has worked for 25 years to establish a network of conservation easements.

Conservation easements are agreements between landowners and an established land trust to preserve the character of private, typically agricultural land in perpetuity. An easement prevents development and often turns into a tax break for the landowner.

In 2018, voters approved an open space levy for the Gallatin County Open Lands Program. The program funds conservation easements across the valley.

“This project would not have been possible without the unwavering commitment of the Visser family, who not only invested significant time and energy in the process, but also donated a substantial amount of development value through their conservation easement,” the release about the easement says.

The Gallatin County Open Lands Program and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a USDA agency, also provided money for the easement.

Klinkenborg said the Visser easement was three years in the making. GVLT staff members act as stewards for the property, sending staff to check in it yearly to ensure landowners aren’t dividing or developing it.

Porth said GVLT has a pipeline of easements in the works, thanks to renewed funding from the recent open space levy and local interest amid rapidly expanding development.

“I’m really excited to get this project done,” Klinkenborg said. “I’m super thankful to the family for their patience.”

View the article here