Montana Association of Land Trusts

Private Land Conservation

Glenn Marx
Executive Director
PO Box 892
Helena, MT 59624

Conservation Conversations

Conservation Conversations is a 12-part series of interviews from the Montana Association of Land Trusts that seeks to present a deeper and broader understanding of private land conservation and the work of Montana’s land trusts. Each month in 2010, a leader within the Montana land trust community will voice their personal perspectives about the value private land conservation brings to Montana’s landscape, to the people of Montana and Montana’s economy. The interviews are conducted by Glenn Marx, executive director of the Montana Association of Land Trusts. This is number eight in the series.

August 2010

Deb Love with daughter Sabine and son Alex Deb Love with daughter Sabine and son Alex

Deb Love is director of the Trust for Public Land’s Northern Rockies program headquartered in Bozeman. She began her career at The Trust for Public Land in 1991, and has since managed conservation real estate projects in the northeast, southwest and most recently, northwest, protecting over 120,000 acres of land. In 2001,┬áDeb opened the TPL New Mexico state office and served as the state director for four years, and in 2005 she relocated to┬áBozeman where she leads TPL’s team in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Deb has a bachelors of science degree in Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley and masters degree in Natural Resources Management from Antioch New England Graduate School. Deb serves as board chair for the Western Conservation Foundation and in her spare time, tries to connect kids with nature through her work running the Farm to School program at Longfellow Elementary in Bozeman. She and her husband, Eric, have two children, Sabine, eight, and Alex, six. The Trust for Public Land was created in 1972 and has completed more than 3,900 land conservation projects in 46 states protecting more than 2.8 million acres. TPL has had a presence in Montana for ten years, with a current Montana staff of six.

Q: Next year you’ll mark 20 years with The Trust for Public Land. Does it seem that long?

A: (Laughs) Some days it does.

I never would have guessed that I’d be spending two decades at TPL, but I must say, the time really has flown by. I’ve worked four years in the New England regional office, ten years in Santa Fe at the Southwest regional office where I started the New Mexico field office, and five years here in Bozeman with the TPL Northern Rockies office.

So I’ve been able to do a lot of different things…I started as an administrative staffer fresh out of college in Boston and have worked my way up ever since. I worked part time for a few years while my kids were young and not long ago stepped back into the director role for the Northern Rockies office. I’ve been able to try a bunch of different things and quite frankly feel like I’ve grown up in this organization. It’s definitely family.

Q: Describe The Trust for Public Land’s business model.

A: TPL is a national land conservation organization. It was founded by a couple former The Nature Conservancy leaders who wanted to protect land in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area but were hampered by TNC’s focus on biodiversity and species habitat. They saw a need for a conservation organization whose mission was to conserve land for people…whether it’s nature close to home, like a park or a trail, or recreation or working lands, or public access for recreation. TPL is really the only national land conservation organization whose focus is land for people. Across the country, a lot of people consider us an urban organization, because we work in cities on parks, playgrounds and trails.

The national TPL mission is pretty broad, so here in the Northern Rockies we’re working at the other end of the spectrum, on large-scale rural landscapes.

TPL founders also came up with a unique business model, whereby TPL receives charitable contributions from our landowners, allowing the landowners to receive a combination of cash and tax benefits for the sale of their land or easement. TPL doesn’t hold easements itself. About half our funding comes from our projects, and the other half from more traditional forms of philanthropy, like foundations and individual supporters. It’s a unique business model in that we need to keep closing projects to keep a revenue stream. So we’re very efficient and very results-driven.

Q: A hallmark of TPL in Montana has been your work with The Nature Conservancy on the Montana Legacy Project. Can you put that project in some sort of perspective related to other TPL Montana and national projects?

A: The Montana Legacy Project is definitely by far the largest project TPL has ever done and the largest project TNC has ever done, and at $500 million it’s quite possibly the largest land conservation project in US history.

For an organization like ours, with a national budget of about $80 million, to take on a $500 million project was beyond our scope. So the Montana Legacy Project has been huge in all respects, and has certainly taken the lion’s share of our organization’s resources and is also certainly a major proposal for TNC.

But there’s more than just the sheer vastness of the project. For me, it has transformed the way we’re looking at land conservation. I think the project is helping to usher in a new landscape-scale perspective - which is a fairly seismic shift - in how we approach land conservation. And this shift is timely and important. It represents community-based, collaborative conservation at its finest. TPL and TNC have never worked this closely before, and we’ve also invested a lot of time and resources toward working with the local communities, from the Swan Valley, where TPL has been working for over a decade, to the Blackfoot, where TNC has achieved incredible conservation results with the Blackfoot Challenge. In Montana we’re blessed with incredible landscapes to protect and incredible species to save. Looking at our work here in Montana from a national perspective, it’s incredibly important that we protect and retain the best of what’s left.

The Montana Legacy Project is helping to protect some of our most critical wildlife and some of our most critical lands in western Montana. The Crown of the Continent really is a crown jewel with its richness of species. The Montana Legacy Project is also helping address the management nightmare of the checker-boarded land management. Getting the land management consolidated makes economic sense, conservation sense, wildlife sense and management sense, and helps ensure these lands will be open to the public for recreational use. These are places Montana families love to hunt, fish, camp, and hike. We’ve heard loud and clear from the local communities that conservation of these lands is of utmost importance and would be a tragic loss if those lands were developed.

So swinging for the fences is exactly where we ought to be right now, and I’ve learned that when you present a big idea like the Montana Legacy Project people get excited and want to be a part of it. We’ve received a tremendous amount of philanthropic support for the project. We’ve seen people like Senator Max Baucus and Governor Brian Schweitzer step up in a major way. I think this is the new model for conservation at scale, which is right where we need to be with the incredible resources we are trying to protect here in the Northern Rockies.

Q: You worked for TPL in New Mexico for ten years before moving north to Montana. Compare land conservation in New Mexico and Montana.

A: New Mexico is a wonderful place with a rich and diverse history. I launched TPL’s Tribal Lands program there, and worked with several of the Pueblos to protect over 10,000 acres of their ancestral lands. We also did a lot of work with the Hispanic community, protecting sacred sites like the backdrop to the Santuario de Chimayo, a place where hundreds of thousands of people go to each year on a sacred pilgrimage. The site is purported to offer health and healing to those who make the pilgrimage, but the areas near the site were looked at for development and condos. So we worked with a local youth organization (Chimayo is one of the heroin capitals of the world) to bolster the agricultural heritage by doing restoration work on the fields or working to pair youth with elders to learn the old ways of digging acequias, or irrigation ditches, to reconnect with the land.

And after a decade of work, last year marked the opening of the Railyard Park and Plaza, a 10-acre park and new plaza in downtown Santa Fe that involved thousands and thousands of hours of community planning, design, and implementation. So the projects are more local and more urban compared to our landscape-scale work here in the Northern Rockies.

In Montana we’ve worked with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust to protect over 52 square miles of open lands, we’ve worked with the Montana Land Reliance to protect really significant wildlife and recreational lands across the Madison Valley. Here in Montana we tend to work at an eco-system scale. We’re working really hard to protect and connect intact eco-systems. And again, it’s the private lands that tie together the large expanses of public land that form the centerpiece of what we’re doing.

The work was different in New Mexico, but no less important, given TPL’s land for people mission.

Q: What motivates you…what in your mind is the payback for the long hours and hard work of a TPL state director?

A: Obviously, I’m passionate about TPL’s mission and feel fortunate to have found my life’s work. Specifically, for me, I love being able to literally walk on our work, to camp and hike and fish on properties we’ve helped protect. That’s important to me, and it’s important to show my kids how important our work is. When you hear your daughter say that mommy helped build this playground or mommy and daddy helped protect this forest…that’s definitely meaningful to me.

The land is important, but more important to me are the people. For me personally, it is the people that I get to meet and work with…whether it’s a collaboration with my land trust partners, the people I work with at TPL or on the Montana Legacy Project, landowners who have these incredible connections to their land, or the many, many supporters who truly care about what we’re doing. So I’ve met the most wonderful people along the way, which has been really inspiring. But ultimately what keeps me going is my kids and knowing I’m doing this for them and their kids.

Q: Speaking about your kids…your family’s clearly a priority with you. I found an online article from “Mothering” about you and your “baby ambassador,” Sabine. How easy is balancing parenthood with the hectic schedule and demands of a TPL state director?

A: (Laughs and snaps her fingers.) No problem.

I can remember when they did that article…and I was carrying Sabine in a sling…some people would schedule meetings with me on days they knew I had Sabine with me so they could play with her. From day one I tried to instill a sense of balance of work and home, and for me it was important to combine work and home or things may not have worked out as well as they have.

This balance between home and work is probably my greatest personal challenge, because my family is everything to me, but as I’ve said, conservation is my life’s work. Thankfully, Bozeman is a great town and everything is close by and I do my best to really encourage and promote a balanced lifestyle in our office. I’m a firm believer in always working to achieve that work/life balance. And I do say, “working to achieve,” because it’s an ongoing practice, ongoing work, and it inevitably gets out of whack and then you have to readjust. I worry about folks who are so work obsessed that it’s all they do. I think it’s our job to stay healthy and balanced. But it’s striving to achieve balance, because you’re always trying, always working on it.

Bill Long, who recently retired from the Montana Land Reliance, reminded me recently that you can’t ever get these years back with young children. So I try to be as productive as possible when I’m at work, and also be as present as possible with my children.

Q: What does the Farm to School program at Longfellow Elementary School here in Bozeman seek to achieve?

A: It’s all about connecting kids with the food they eat and with the farmers in our community. It’s shocking to look at kids these days and what they’re eating…it’s all packaged, processed. We’re trying to get kids to understand not only the connection to the food they eat but also how diet is part of a larger wellness program. I sit on the school district’s wellness advisory committee as well, and this balance of getting kids outside, eating more natural and healthy foods, and understanding the importance of where your food comes from, is a real passion for me. It’s important for kids to make healthy choices about their food.

So we at the Farm to School program have done things like dress up as vegetables and hand out bell peppers and peas to kids to encourage them to try new items on the lunch menu. We’ve had Jenny Sabo bring her cows in and let every kid at Longfellow take a turn with milking. We brought in a Cheyenne elder earlier this year to talk about native foods. And when the kids get back to school this fall, we’re going to throw a pizza party and make homemade pizzas, harvesting the tomatoes, basil, and onions that we planted this spring on the Bozone Ozone Bus (BOB), a mobile greenhouse entirely designed, built, and maintained by students. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s really about connecting kids to the outdoors, to farms and farmers and to the things we all love.

Q: You have a bi-coastal education and some might almost say bi-lingual degrees in business administration and natural resources management. How have you blended those degrees in your work at TPL?

A: I graduated from Berkeley with a business degree and planned to change the work from the inside out. I started work at an investment firm in Boston and quickly realized that changing that world from the inside out was maybe not my calling. I took an environmental management night class at Harvard and found my true passion, and happened to find a job opening at TPL in Boston. I knew from the first day that this was the place for me.

I also quickly realized my business degree was quite helpful. TPL is a real estate organization, by and large. TPL’s work is about saving dirt. While I was in Boston I also pursued a masters degree in natural resources management, and that has been instrumental in helping to determine which dirt to save. The natural resources education has been helpful in talking with biologists and hydrologists and all the other “ologists.” But at the end of the day, having a solid understanding of real estate and business practices is what’s really useful, whether for negotiating deals or managing our budget.

Q: Where’s land conservation going in Montana and what will be your and TPL’s role in that effort?

A: I think the Montana Legacy Project - not to overstate it - is really helping to usher in this new era of large landscape scale conservation. Part of the reason I say that is because when we hosted the Administration’s first listening session in Ovando (June 1, 2010), the Administration officials had a chance to see the work and hear from community groups who talked about years of conservation efforts around the Crown of the Continent to protect their communities. After the tour and listening session, I was really pleased to see a quote from one of Secretary Salazar’s staffers, who said that, “Montana conservation efforts used to be on our radar screen; now they are on a pedestal.” That quote really conveys the importance of the work of land trusts all across Montana. And I think the ability to pull it together into a larger vision is what’s compelling. What we’ve - and by “we” I mean Montana conservationists - have been able to do successfully is show the larger vision. Whether it be the Crown of the Continent or the Northern Rockies, I think being able to show the larger impact of the work you’re doing is really critical. I think that’s the direction where the Obama Administration is moving, and I think they are trying to invest a piece of their conservation funding in these landscape objectives that have a compelling vision and a lot of groups working collaboratively.

So from my standpoint, it’s about community-based, collaborative, landscape-scale conservation. And each one of those three components, I think, is critical. And that, I think, is the future of conservation in Montana. The more we’re able to reach out and collaborate, the better off I think we’re all going to be. Which is one of the reasons why MALT is so important. That kind of collaboration is key to our success.

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