The quiet, impactful side of GVLT’s conservation stewardship

April 14, 2022

Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Column

By Chet Work

Throughout southwest Montana the landscape is emerging from winter and wildlife are bustling at the first signs of spring. Nesting eagles eye spawning trout in creeks and wobbling fawns wander through pastures alongside newly born calves. Just as you are excitedly dusting off your hiking boots, Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) staff are preparing for a busy season of visiting with over 100 families who have worked with GVLT to conserve over 50,000 acres throughout our region.

I’m guessing that many in our community don’t know much about the quiet yet impactful “stewardship” side of our conservation work. While you’re most likely to hear about GVLT and landowners partnering to conserve critical lands, the real estate transactions are just the start of a long relationships that ensure permanent protection and enhancement of the conservation values that define these properties and this region.

Here at the GVLT we utilize a tool known as a “conservation easement” to help landowners conserve their agricultural heritage, productive soils, wildlife habitat, scenic open views, and clean waterways on private land. Our focus on conserving private land reflects the unprecedented development threat facing our communities and ensures that wildlife and water can move more naturally through the increasingly complex matrix of private and public lands.

A conservation easement, at its most basic level, is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that limits future development of a property in perpetuity. The restrictions on development and subdivision of the property run with the title of the land forever and may come with financial benefits and incentives for the landowner. After a property is conserved, GVLT has a legal obligation to visit the property once a year to ensure compliance with the conservation easement terms. Upholding both the landowner’s intent and the public trust is a responsibility we take very seriously.

While annual monitoring is an obligation, it is also an opportunity for GVLT to partner with interested landowners on projects to improve and enhance the conservation values on their property. Our stewardship staff are knowledgeable about resource issues, best practices, land management strategies, partnerships, and grant opportunities in this landscape. We aim to build trusting, long-term relationships with landowners to sustain and further enhance the conservation values that we’ve protected together through each easement. Whether landowners are interested in noxious weed control, habitat enhancement, agricultural improvements, timber management, grazing plans, or wildlife friendly fencing, our dedicated stewardship staff advise and support by connecting them with partners and resources. GVLT can also sometimes help landowners find financial support to help defray the cost of larger restoration projects. For example, we are incredibly proud of our landowner partners at Gallatin Valley Botanicals for a recent streambank restoration project completed on Rocky Creek, part of 50-acre conserved property in Kelly Canyon that produces food for our community. Over the course of the past two years, we have also frequently found ourselves working with landowners, their realtors, and prospective buyers to ensure that successive owners of conserved properties are aware not only of the constraints, but also the opportunities afforded under each unique conservation agreement.

GVLT is working against a rising tide of development to conserve the most threatened and important properties on our landscape as quickly as possible. However, protecting a property with a conservation easement is just the beginning of the journey. The real strength of our conservation tool is its longevity and the power woven into the positive working relationship between our stewardship team and the visionary landowners who have made a commitment to protect the land they love. Without such generous partners — the thoughtful stewards of the habitat, soils, heritage, clean water, and open scenic lands that define this place — and the trusting, supportive community that sustains GVLT, none of this would be possible.

Read the article here.