GVLT Stewardship Team Takes Flight

July 22, 2022

Summer is here and that means monitoring season is in full swing. For Stewardship Manager Jeremy Puckett and Lands Steward Cole Herdman, workdays are spent visiting properties protected under conservation easement deeds to discuss ongoing property management and ensure compliance within the conservation easement terms. This is also an opportunity for GVLT to partner with interested landowners on projects to improve and enhance the conservation values on their property.

Last year, Jeremy and Cole oversaw more than 50,000 acres protected by GVLT conservation easements, visited over 18,000 acres of cropland, saw more than 35,000 acres of wildlife habitat, and walked easement properties among six mountain ranges, including the Gallatin, Madison, Tobacco Roots, Crazy, Bridger, Absaroka mountains. As of this spring, GVLT has helped establish 122 conservation easements scattered throughout Southwest Montana. That’s a lot of traveling and walking, and on the best days, Jeremy and Cole can reasonably expect to visit up to three different properties each.

“These monitoring visits typically have to be coordinated with the landowner’s schedule, so we’re not always able to see multiple properties in the same area on the same day,” Jeremy said. “Some monitoring visits can take hours to reach or require strenuous hiking through challenging vegetation and terrain. Plus, if we’re on a property that has significant disturbance such as blowdown or fire damage, and the wind picks up, that can make it too dangerous to complete the monitoring visit.”

That’s why GVLT is thrilled to partner with LightHawk Conservation Flying, which is changing the conservation easement monitoring game. LightHawk accelerates conservation success through flight, offering free conservation flights to nonprofits. Nonprofits are permitted to submit unlimited flight requests per year. All an organization must do is create a compelling flight plan and apply. Then, LightHawk works to find a volunteer pilot among their ranks who is comfortable with the flight plan, familiar with the area, and has conservation goals and interests in line with the organization. Earlier this summer, Jeremy applied for a conservation flight that was ultimately accepted. Jeremy and Cole then spent a spectacular morning soaring above Southwest Montana’s iconic landscape with LightHawk volunteer pilot Ray Lee.

“In an hour-and-a-half flight, we were able to capture documentary photographs and offset field work equivalent to 19 conservation easement monitoring visits,” Jeremy said. “Flight monitoring significantly increases efficiency and provides the big picture of the interesting landscape dynamics. From the air, we can easily identify flooding and fire damage, new structures or roads being built on the property, impacts from drought, beetle infestations, and potential encroachment from adjacent land use.”

GVLT is lucky to have Jeremy – he’s one of the leading flight monitoring experts in the country according to LightHawk. As a student pilot, he’s well-versed in creating flight plans that limit turns and terrain challenges and provide ample time and thoughtful aircraft placement for successful monitoring. If you’re interested in learning more about flight planning, check out this webinar Jeremy did with LightHawk while working for the Colorado West Land Trust.

If the Stewardship Team identifies any areas of concern, such as erosion along riverbanks, large scale forest health issues, or other disturbances, they can alert the landowner once they’re back on the ground and form a plan of action. Our staff are knowledgeable about resource issues, best practices, land management strategies, partnerships, and grant opportunities that can help landowners enhance the conservation values of their land.

“We are so grateful for our partnership with LightHawk,” Jeremy said. “Conservation flights offer benefits to conservation organizations beyond flight monitoring. They can also give our partners and donors holistic views of landscapes when GVLT applies for grants and funding for conservation projects in specific areas. We’re excited to continue working to build our partnership with LightHawk in the future.”