Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

Great American Outdoors Act Signed Into Law

President Trump today signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law, which means permanent full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The passage and signing of the bill into law marks a historic achievement in US land conservation, and will benefit national parks, public lands and everyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Thank you to Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines, and Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, for their support of the bill.

Historic Week for Montana and US Land Conservation

by Glenn Marx, MALT Executive Director

The past week showcased the broad support and diverse value of land conservation in Montana.

The Montana Board of Land Commissioners (aka Land Board) approved three different Montana FWP recreation and access projects on July 20, and each of the three projects featured an important Montana land trust partnership. Each project was also approved by a 5-0 vote.

Mike Mueller of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation engaged Governor Bullock with some friendly banter about elk bugling during a discussion of the Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area expansion. Gates Watson of The Conservation Fund was a key supporter of the Confluentus Corner Fishing Access Site, and TCF’s financial agility helped make the project possible. Gavin Ricklefs offered compelling testimony when he spoke in support of the C. Ben White Memorial Fishing Access Site. Three projects, three strong partnerships, three unanimous votes. Pretty impressive.

The Great American Outdoors Act received 370 votes July 23 on the US House of Representatives floor, capping the congressional (and political) miracle of full permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It is hard to put the magnitude of that accomplishment in context.

Speaking of the LWCF, LWCF funds are a critical component in The Trust for Public Land’s collaborative landscape conservation project with MTFWP, USF&WS and Southern Pine Plantations in northwest Montana. Every time I see a headline about the project the acreage  seems to somehow magically grow, and is now around 300,000 acres.

Finally, last week Gallatin Valley Land Trust announced it – with assistance from the NRCS and Gallatin County Open Lands Program – will permanently protect the over 100-year-old Spring Family Farm.

Ponder, for a moment, the diversity and value of that collection of projects and efforts. Not a bad week, indeed.

US House Passes Great American Outdoors Act!

The US House of Representatives has passed the Great American Outdoors Act with a historic and overwhelming 310-107 vote! Final congressional passage of the bill is a remarkable achievement for conservation and outdoor recreation. Thank you, Congressman Greg Gianforte, for your vote of support. The bill contains full permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The LWCF has provided over $639 million for Montana outdoor recreation and conservation funding since the program was created in 1964, and has funded outdoor projects in nearly every one of Montana’s 56 counties. The LWCF is America’s and Montana’s premier conservation program, and permanent full funding at $900 million annually has been a Montana land trust federal policy priority for several years.

Next step for the Great American Outdoors Act is a White House signature by President Trump.


GVLT, NRCS, Gallatin County and Spring Family Partner to Conserve 100-Year-Old Farm

    Thanks to the Spring family, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Gallatin County Open Lands Program, the 100-year-old Spring Valley Farm will produce agricultural products, open space and wildlife habitat for another 100 years and longer. A  permanent conservation easement, held by GVLT under the NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (with ACEP funding) with funding help from the county open land program, was finalized earlier this month.

     The Spring Family Farm, 313 acres in size, was established in 1902 by homesteader Wilbur Spring, located northeast of present-day Belgrade. GVLT reports that Wilbur Spring, Jr. “turned the swampy pasture land into a thriving hay and grain operation.”  Today, the farm remains in agricultural production, including wheat, barley, oats, and canola and alfalfa hay.

     From the GVLT website:The Spring siblings wrote to the Gallatin County Open Lands Board that a conservation easement “ensure[s] that future generations will also be able to experience the feeling of peace that overtakes anyone who walks through the hay fields while gazing at the beautiful Bridger Mountains and watching the antics of the Sandhill cranes and the other creatures that inhabit this paradise.”

     The legacy of the Spring family will live on in their land, which is now protected in perpetuity with the help of the Gallatin County Open Lands Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the generosity and dedication of the Spring Family. 


Land Board Approves Three Land Trust-Partner Projects

The Montana Board of Land Commissioners unanimously approved three Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks land acquisition and recreation access projects on July 20, with each project having a land trust partner and each project enjoying broad and local public support.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was a partner – and at the land board meeting RMEF’s Mike Mueller testified in support of the project – on FWP’s proposed 600-acre Stumptown addition to the Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area, which expanded access and improved wildlife habitat conservation at the WMA. RMEF contributed $100,000 to the project.

The Conservation Fund’s Gates Watson testified in support of the proposed Confluentus Corner Fishing Access Site on the Thompson River near Thompson Falls. The new 40-acre FAS creates a walk-in fishing access opportunity four miles from Thompson Falls. At the request of Montana FWP, and with support from Avista, Northwestern Energy and Trout Unlimited, The Conservation Fund acquired the property last year. TCF held and managed the property with the objective of transferring it to FWP for long term stewardship and ownership.

Bitter Root Land Trust helped lead the 97-acre C. Ben White Memorial Fishing Access Site project on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. The expanded FAS will permanently create access to the river for fishing and boating, and also allows camping, protects wildlife habitat, and will help expand additional access into the Bitterroot National Forest. Bitter Root Land Trust’s Gavin Ricklefs testified in support of the project, and BRLT has essentially served as project manager on the $1.1 million project.

All three projects were approved by the land board members on 5-0 votes, and MALT thanks Governor Bullock, Attorney General Fox, Auditor Rosendale, Superintendent Arntzen and Secretary Stapleton for their support of these projects.

Photo: C. Ben White Fishing Access Site


The Trust for Public Land Announces 200,000-Acre ‘Working Forest’ Proposal

     The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with Southern Pine Plantations, (SPP), announced the opportunity to permanently protect nearly 200,000 acres in Northwest Montana through “working forest” conservation easements. The property available for conservation would stitch together 317,000 acres of conservation work completed over the last 20 years that protects important working timberland from Glacier National Park through the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness to the Selkirk and Coeur d’Alene mountains in the Idaho panhandle.

The proposed conservation easement would preclude development, ensure sustainable timber management, maintain wood-product jobs, protect incredible wildlife habitat and landscape connectivity, and provide permanent public access to extraordinary recreation lands. 

      “The opportunity to protect this property completes the connectivity of previous conservation efforts and would ensure permanent public access to a highly used recreational corridor. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said The Trust for Public Land’s Northern Rockies Director, Dick Dolan “The framework is in place but we and our partners and donors need to act quickly to ensure we are successful. Forests and mountains like these are the lifeblood of Montana and a vital part of making our state a great place to live, work, and play. We also have the opportunity to protect Montana’s forestry heritage by ensuring the state’s timber industry can continue sustainably for generations to come. We are grateful to SPP and our government partners in working together towards this goal.”

MT FWP Photo

Prickly Pear Looking to Again Extend Helena’s Trail System

     Thanks to Prickly Pear Land Trust and many partners, the community trails system in Helena keeps getting bigger and better.

     Last week PPLT and the City of Helena announced an effort for PPLT to purchase and then donate about 54 acres of private land to the city for trails expansion.  PPLT would obtain a portion of the funding to purchase the land from the US Defense Department’s ACUB (Army Compatible Use Buffer) program. PPLT utilized that funding source for previous projects near Fort Harrison.

     A Helena Independent Record article quoted a city official as saying the potential acquisition would provide better continuity within the trail system, improve emergency personnel access and provide further opportunities to conduct wildfire fuel reduction work.

     “Any chance we have an opportunity to add strategic public land and recreation value pieces to our public land, especially those that are adjacent to residential communities, we should jump on the opportunity,” PPLT executive director Mary Hollow said, citing heavy use of existing trails.

     Hollow also said, “I’d like to applaud this commission and the leadership of the city that together over the course of the last 22 years, we have now added upwards of 20 parcels to the South Hills that comprise today some of the best trails and public lands that we have in the state.”

Trails are Paths to New Experiences, New Opportunities

       The Universal Trails and Outdoors for Everyone Panel Discussion and Workshop, held July 8-9-10 at the Five Valleys Land Trust Confluence Property at Rock Creek, offered abundant information for participants to ponder, to act upon, to motivate, and to bring home to serve and improve communities.

      Five Valleys planned and implemented the workshop, with funding help from the Land Trust Alliance and the Montana Association of Land Trusts.  The July 8  virtual panel, titled “Voices From the Community: Why Access, Equity, and Inclusion Matter,” provided insights into the significance of, challenges of – and value of – universal trails for people of all abilities in any community. The panel discussion was recorded and is available on the Five Valleys website.

      The two-day trails workshop, with instruction provided by Larry Knutson of Penn Trails, carefully and thoroughly walked the workshop attendees through the process of designing, building, and maintaining universal all-access trails. Knutson is a national universal trails leader, and his book “Universal Access Trails and Shared Use Paths” is (to use one of his phrases) the gold standard of universal trails literature. Larry provided a wealth of information about trail design principles, trail sustainability, the function and integrity of trail tread and much, much, much more. The goal was for workshop participants to obtain information to take back home and put that information to work, and that goal was accomplished. MALT thanks Jenny Tollefson and the entire Five Valleys crew, and Land Trust Alliance Western Program for making the panel presentation and workshop possible. Everything about it was impressive.

MALT Photos