Peaks to Potatoes – The Public Benefit of Stewarding Conservation Easements

August 21, 2020

It’s easy to understand how GVLT’s new trail projects directly benefit the public. To date, our Main Street to the Mountains initiative has provided the community with 80+ miles of opportunities; opportunities to connect, reflect, exercise, learn, and breathe. And while the public benefit of conserving working farms and ranches may seem less tangible, protecting private land through conservation easements is in the public’s best interest. These benefits are maintained by our conservation easement donors in partnership with our Stewardship Team, made up of Peter Brown and Lucas Cain.

Each year, Peter and Lucas spend the summer conducting monitoring visits to every GVLT conservation easement property to ensure landowners are upholding the terms of their agreements. That’s 114 conservation easements split between the two of them, from the peaks of Big Sky to the potato fields of the Amsterdam-Churchill area. But monitoring visits consist of more than ensuring no new roads or buildings have been developed on the land. Every visit is a chance to steward the property to increase public benefit.

“GVLT takes on the responsibility of enforcing those deed terms on behalf of the public,” Peter said. “We end up seeing 100+ properties a year, so we are in the unique position to offer solutions to our landowners that enhance water, wildlife, noxious weed, forestry, and range management.”

The Stewardship Team works to connect landowners with local information, experts, cost-sharing programs, and grants that can protect the natural resources on their land. The results are vast, and include cleaner water, increased wildlife habitat, increased agricultural production, and unobstructed scenic views.

“When we monitor properties, we may see noxious weeds,” Peter said. “We give the landowners ideas about who they can work with and how they can afford to remove them. This way, noxious weeds don’t spread to neighboring or public lands. We also provide tips and tricks gleaned from our conversations with many landowners across the valley”

“If we improve fish and wildlife habitat which will support thriving populations of  fish, birds, and game, eventually those animals move off of the property and become accessible to the public.”

For an ongoing wetland and streambank enhancement project at Gallatin Valley Botanical at Rocky Creek Farm, Lucas connected the landowner to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. This restoration effort has remedied past human alterations which resulted in eroded streambanks and dry floodplains in the headwaters reach of the East Gallatin River. The success of this project has resulted in clearer, cleaner water, enhanced streamside vegetation to decrease erosion, and improved beaver habitat. Thanks to this project, fishermen and women of the Gallatin Valley can enjoy improved fishing opportunities and enhanced visibility in the river.

“It’s really cool to watch these projects flourish,” Lucas said. “Every year, we get to see property value and public benefit increase through active stewardship of our easements. Everyone can reap the benefits of these restoration and enhancement projects for years to come.”

Click here for landowner resources.