No plan for more open space money as Gallatin County nears end of conservation program
6/26/2016 Bozeman Daily Chronicle by Troy Carter, photo by Rachel Leathe
CHURCHILL — Sherwin Leep and his brother are third-generation farmers. His son and nephews will be the fourth. They’ve decided they love farming and their land more than the money they could make selling it.
County taxpayers were concerned enough about sprawling development and dwindling open space that in 2000, and again in 2004, they approved a total of $20 million in new taxes to fund conservation.
That allowed Leep and dozens of landowners to take that money in exchange for a conservation easement — a voluntary legal contract between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that forever bars the development of the land. Some landowners, but not all, are paid a part of their land’s lost value.
Today, though, that money is almost gone.
“It’s one of the reasons Bozeman is so popular,” said Penelope Pierce, executive director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “Because we do have wildlife that people can see because we’re protecting wildlife habitat with these projects. And also scenic vistas; people come to Montana because they want to see big, wide open spaces.”