A Ravalli Republic article documents the significant achievements of – and broad support for – the Ravalli County Open Lands Program.
Conservation projects by the Vital Ground Foundation, and a partnership project by The Montana Land Reliance and The Nature Conservancy in Montana, are featured in a story titled “Year-end land deals help wildlife.”
The Nature Conservancy in Montana and Roger Lang have negotiated sale of 300 acres in the Madison Valley that improves access to the Madison River. The BLM purchased the land, located between Highway 287 and existing BLM lands. The land borders private lands protected through a conservation easement, and is contiguous to DNRC and FWP managed public lands. “That connection to public land multiplies the conservation value of this acquisition by tenfold,“ said Jim Berkey, TNC’s director for the High Divide Headwaters Program. “This transfer helps us realize a greater conservation vision for this stretch of the cherished Madison River. We are proud to be part of a Madison Valley partnership to create a long-term solution that secures the integrity of the land and river for the benefit of both people and nature.”
Despite tremendous efforts by Montana Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester, the US Congress failed last night to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This epic and utter failure by Congress to reauthorize the LWCF is an example of why the US Congress is held with such low esteem by Americans. While Montana Senators Tester and Daines worked with determination and conviction in support of the LWCF, the dysfunction in Congress was impossible to overcome. The Montana LWCF Coalition statement clearly captures the disappointment of Congress’ failure: “The entire Montana Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition is extremely disappointed in Congress’ failure to secure permanent reauthorization and full, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund before the end of the Lame Duck session of Congress. LWCF expired on September 30, 2018, and the nation loses $2.5 million in funding each day the program is allowed to lay dormant. LWCF must be the first order of business in 2019, and Montanans expect our delegation to provide the strong leadership needed to deliver full, dedicated funding and permanent reauthorization to a program so vital to Montana’s economy and outdoor heritage.”
The Nature Conservancy in Montana and The Montana Land Reliance have partnered with Swan Valley Connections and the community of Condon to produce a conservation and community outcome on a final piece of the Montana Legacy Project in the Swan Valley. The Seeley Swan Pathfinder details the donation by TNC of 160 acres to Swan Valley Connections with an MLR easement on the property to help ensure the community, conservation and educational future of the property. The project produces tangible benefits for Swan Valley residents, and showcases land trust cooperation for local conservation with community partnerships.
A 2018 Farm Bill that contains strong farm and ranch conservation provisions last week passed the US House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, and President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law soon. All three members of the Montana Congressional Delegation voted in favor of the bill, which nationwide contains significant increases in funding levels to $450 million per year for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and $300 million per year for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. In addition to funding levels, the Land Trust Alliance, the Partnership of Land Trusts and members of MALT had worked to establish clear Farm Bill funding and policy priorities and goals early in the process, including basic elimination of the ALE Plan requirement, improvements in minimum deed terms, modifications in ALE project cash match considerations, allowance for the buy-protect-sell conservation transaction model, clarification of mineral development requirements and more. MALT joined other land trusts on a Dec. 12 conference call in thanking and congratulating the Alliance and the Alliance’s Farm Bill coalition for their efforts that produced the positive funding and program policy accomplishments within the Farm Bill. Well over a year ago, when the Montana land trust community first began planning for the 2018 Farm Bill, predictions about funding levels and program flexibility were consistently pessimistic. But thanks to Alliance persistence, focus and collaboration, we’ve ended up with a Farm Bill that is abundantly committed to ag land conservation.
The Montana Land Reliance’s Flathead Valley Agricultural Forum looks at the importance of agriculture in the valley…now and in the future. “We want to show the community how important agriculture is to the valley, and there are threats to agriculture,” Mark Schlitz, western manager for the Montana Land Reliance, said.
The Montana NRCS has compiled several Agricultural Land Easement Program conservation easement success stories on the agency’s website. It’s pretty impressive how land trusts, landowners and the NRCS have partnered to conserve Montana ag ground.
The Vital Ground Foundation’s efforts are highlighted in an article focused on the challenges Montana and federal public wildlife managers face in removing the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List. Vital Ground is working to conserve key habitat that would assist in targeting conservation efforts to delist the grizzly from the ESA.
The Montana Conservation Easement Appraiser Capacity Project Report was officially released at the MALT Dec. 3 membership meeting through a presentation by Bill Long of Solid Ground Consulting. Bill has been working with MALT staff on the report since June 2018. He conducted nearly 30 interviews with land trust professionals and conservation easement appraisers to determine the appraiser capacity situation and explore options to address any current or future appraiser capacity issues that may exist. The 29-page report discusses trends in Montana private land conservation, presents the interview results, highlights key issues within the land trust – conservation easement appraiser relationship of working together on conservation projects, a series of Bill’s observations, and a package of options to address conservation easement appraisal capacity challenges.