Guest column: Thinking about the march toward the next 50,000 acres
July 17, 2021
Bozeman Daily Chronicle
by Chet Work
A few weeks ago the Gallatin Valley Land Trust reached a truly incredible milestone. After partnering with the Visser family to conserve 395 acres of their productive farmland in Churchill, just west of Four Corners, GVLT has now permanently conserved 50,000 acres across our service area. That is more than 78 square miles of open space, farmland and wildlife habitat that can never be developed and are protected forever for future generations.
This isn’t just GVLT’s accomplishment, we share this milestone with more than 100 families who have chosen to work with GVLT to protect their land and with the many communities throughout Gallatin, Park, Madison and Meagher counties that have supported us. For more than 30 years you’ve been by our side as we work tirelessly to safeguard our rivers, prime agricultural lands and critical wildlife corridors and to enhance recreation and trails; the things that make living here so special. This is a remarkable achievement and we should all be very proud of what we’ve accomplished together.
But with this celebration comes a pause and a question: is it enough? While our milestone is significant, it is immediately sobering to learn that in that same time it took us to conserve 50,000 acres, 100,000 acres have been converted to development in Gallatin County alone, more than any other county in Montana. As wide swaths of open land are paved over, wildlife habitat is lost, water quality is threatened, and the scenic open spaces we once loved have become a distant memory.
Southwest Montana is one of the most desirable places to live in the country. Gallatin County is now the fastest growing community of our size in the country. I don’t say this to scare you. Our region’s growth has brought thoughtful and community-minded people to our neighborhoods and cultural amenities to our community. And while we have lost acres of open space to development, the bulk of those acres have accommodated dense development and housing that is critically needed. Growth is not inherently bad, but the patterns of where and how it happens are important to consider. We commend local government efforts to encourage thoughtful development close to available infrastructure and existing density.
GVLT supports thoughtful land use through our conservation tools that ensure development doesn’t occur in the most special parts of our valley. By most measures, agriculture is still viable in this valley and many important wildlife corridors for our country’s most iconic animals remain intact. Our conserved 50,000 acres are strategically concentrated in areas throughout the valley where we see the highest conservation values and the best chances for large scale conservation success. While the pace of development has surged we have had to become more and more strategic about our impact.
The reality is, we have to do more. We must accelerate the pace of our work to match that of development. While the statistics around growth give us pause, they don’t leave us hopeless. All of us at GVLT still believe strongly that this beautiful valley is worth fighting for. The actions we take as a community in the coming decade will profoundly shape the look and feel of this place we love.
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. We encourage you to join us as we start the march toward the next 50,000 acres.