Montana Association of Land Trusts

Private Land Conservation

Glenn Marx
Executive Director
PO Box 892
Helena, MT 59624

About Land Trusts

Mount Jumbo Photo

Mount Jumbo, provided by Five Valleys Land Trust

Land trusts are private, independent, entrepreneurial nonprofit organizations that have joined with landowners to protect private lands in the U.S. for over 50 years. There are over 1,500 land trusts operating in all portions of America. Twelve land trusts in Montana have formed the Montana Association of Land Trusts.

Land trusts are not a branch of any governmental entity.

Land trusts have one primary mission: To conserve private lands. Land trusts work with private landowners to protect private lands through voluntary agreements called conservation easements. Land trusts are not environmental advocacy groups in the traditional sense. Land trusts work closely with farmers and ranchers and a large group of partners that includes county governments, state and federal land and wildlife management agencies, local watershed groups and others to protect open lands.

Land trusts and landowners work voluntarily to negotiate an agreement that protects the land from future industrial, commercial or residential development. That agreement is called a conservation easement. Land trusts work to conserve valuable open lands, wildlife habitat, recreational lands, scenic properties, historical lands and work to keep working landscapes in the hands of farmers and ranchers.

Land trusts play an important role in working to ensure that as Montana grows and develops, we preserve the character of our majestic open spaces, the productivity of our agricultural lands and the health of our streams and wildlife habitat. We believe that to achieve economic growth, expanded employment opportunities and the chance to make a better life for our families we must protect the quality of life that is a foundation of our economy. Land trusts are supported by a great variety of individuals and organizations who share this belief and who share a concern for Montana’s future when they see subdivisions stand where hay once grew, where cows once grazed, where a barn once stood, where elk once gathered, where upland birds once nested, where people once walked or hiked.

The nonprofit status of a land trust can help bring a variety of tax benefits to landowners who work with land trusts. Donations of land, easements or monetary gifts may qualify landowners for federal income, estate or gift tax benefits. Land trusts are also flexible and can act quickly in conserving lands.

Land trusts all have some attributes in common, but each land trust in Montana has its own unique working area, priorities, mission and goals.

For example, some of the land trusts in Montana work with landowners in a more narrowly defined geographical area, and cooperate with local governments, state and federal agencies and other organizations in specific counties, valleys and river basins in Montana (Bitter Root Land Trust, Five Valleys Land Trust, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Prickly Pear Land Trust, Flathead Land Trust and Kaniksu Land Trust). Other land trusts in Montana protect lands critical to specific wildlife species, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (elk) and The Vital Ground Foundation (grizzly bear habitat). The Montana Land Reliance started in 1978 and holds more easements than any other land trust in the state, works throughout Montana, and primarily works with agriculture-based landowners who donate easements. The Nature Conservancy is an international organization with a long and steady presence in Montana, and the Conservancy focus is protecting lands and habitats of animals and plants in need of special protection. The Trust for Public Land and the Conservation Fund are national organizations which operate in Montana. The Trust for Public Land’s focus is protecting working forests, farms and ranches that support land-based livelihoods and rural ways of life. The Conservation Fund works through a partnership-driven approach to preserve unique natural resources, cultural heritage and historic places.

All land trusts in Montana have a common thread running through them, and that thread is a dedication to private land conservation.

To find out more about the land trusts in Montana click here.

To find out more about the Land Trust Alliance click here.

To find out more about a Montana Environmental Quality Council document about land trusts and conservation easements click here.

To find out more about a 2007 Montana Legislative Audit Division performance audit on land trusts and conservation easements click here.

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