Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

BRLT, Project Partners Conserve “Best Soils”

      Bitter Root Land Trust, the Sutherlin family, Montana NRCS and the ALE Program, and the Ravalli County Open Land Program have teamed up to conserve 378 acres of “the most productive farmland in the the state.” 

     The Ravalli Republic reports the conservation easement will conserve agricultural lands in the Bitterroot Valley, and fulfill a long-tern dream of rancher Bob Sutherlin.

     From the article: “We wanted to keep it in ag,” Sutherlin said. “It’s all we have ever wanted to do with the ground and don’t want to see anything else done with it.”

     The funds that will offset the value the family gave up by placing an easement on the property will go toward adding additional land in the Bitterroot to raise crops and cattle.

     “We’re going to add to the farm with what we got from the land trust,” Sutherlin said. “We’re not going out and buying a new Cadillac. We’re going to add land to it. We want to farm. He (their son) wants to farm and I have three grandsons who might want to farm too.”     

     The Sutherlin project is another example of BRLT and Ravalli County landowners working with the NRCS and within the Farm Bill’s Agricultural Land Easement program and county open land program. 

    BRLT executive director Gavin Ricklefs said in the article that land preserved by the Sutherlin family is some of the most productive farmland in the state.

      “They are on our best soils,” Ricklefs said. “That area between Corvallis and Stevensville on the Eastside Highway is some of the best ground in the state of Montana.”

Photo Bob Sutherlin; Perry Backus photo

Vital Ground Foundation Purchases Key Land Parcel in the Yaak Valley

The Vital Ground Foundation announced last week that it has acquired 160 acres of wildlife habitat in the Yaak Valley.
Located directly north of the 315-acre Fowler Creek area that Vital Ground acquired earlier this year, the additional acres will remain undeveloped as open space and wildlife habitat. Under Vital Ground ownership, the area’s stewardship can now be streamlined to best maintain connectivity for wildlife crossing the valley bottom.

Photos: (Right) The Fowler Creek addition includes rich wetland habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, elk, moose and other wildlife crossing the Yaak Valley bottom. (Photo by Mitch Doherty/Vital Ground Foundation)

(Below) Peeled bark shows evidence of bear traffic at the Fowler Creek addition. Grizzlies and black bears peel tree bark to eat the rich cambium layer beneath.

Bozeman City Commission Approves Peets Hill Funding

     More good news for Gallatin Valley recreation and conservation.

    The Bozeman City Commission approved an allocation of $800,000 to Gallatin Valley Land Trust to purchase 30 acres on Peets Hill to protect one of Bozeman’s most popular recreation areas.

     The Bozeman Chronicle reports the funding is broken down into two purposes…an immediate  $485,000 approval to purchase the 30 acres and $315,000 over the next two years for trail improvements and other management costs.

     “Peets Hill has been referred to as Bozeman’s sidewalk in the sky,” Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham said during the meeting. “I believe that this action tonight helps extend and protect in perpetuity that precious natural feature.”

     From the article: 

     The land trust raised $800,000 during a massive fundraising campaign this fall that involved nearly 700 donors. GVLT Executive Director Chet Work said during the meeting that the nonprofit has never had a fundraising campaign go so big and so quickly.

     “This is something that speaks to the people of Bozeman from all parts of the city,” Work said.


Vital Ground Conserves 100 Acres Near Whitefish

     The Vital Ground Foundation and a cooperative landowner have partnered to conserve 100 acres of land termed “a habitat-rich zone that helps connect wildlife in and around Glacier National Park with those farther west in the Salish and Cabinet mountain ranges of Montana’s northwestern corner.”

     The conservation easement will maintain open land, protect wildlife habitat and protect a key connectivity area for wildlife in the fast-growing area around Whitefish. 

     “This area is critical for wildlife and wildlife movement,” says Mitch Doherty, Conservation Director for Vital Ground. “But it’s also still quiet and scenic, with that rural feel that we’re losing in too many places throughout western Montana right now.”

     Major support for the Tamarack Creek project came from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the PDJ Family Foundation and numerous individual contributors.

Initial Green Light Given for Gallatin Valley Easements

       The Gallatin County Commission gave initial unanimous approval of six proposed conservation easements through the county’s open land program that would conserve 7,200 acres of important Gallatin Valley agricultural lands.

     The initial approval came on Dec. 14, after the commission considered four project applications by  Gallatin Valley Land Trust and two from The Montana Land Reliance. 

    The six projects will now go to the Gallatin County Open Lands Program Board before a final decision by the county commission. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle article indicates there is enough funding for all six projects, with some additional funding rolled over into 2022.

     The proposed conservation easements highlighted in the Chronicle all featured impressive agricultural and wildlife conservation benefits.

     Chad Klinkenborg, lands program manager at Gallatin Valley Land Trust, said that the Gallatin Madison North Ranch proposed easement is within five miles of eight existing conservation easements held by GVLT which combined have conserved around 5,000 acres of agricultural land.

     The property was described as critical winter range for elk. An elk herd that has frequented the property has grown substantially over the years.

     The Chronicle reported that The Rimkus Property, a conservation easement proposed by MLR, is home to a large variety of animal species, including 47 species of birds and seven species of bats that are of concern, said Kathryn Kelly, MLR’S Greater Yellowstone manager

Flathead Land Trust 2021 Conservation Leadership Awards

      Congratulations to longtime Flathead Land Trust board member and treasurer Jeff Jones and Region 1 of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks for receiving Flathead Land Trust 2021 Conservation Leadership Awards. 

   The awards were presented in late November and are highlighted in a FLT newsletter and on the FLT website. Alan Wood, who recently retired at MTFWP, was singled out and saluted as well. 

     A short FLT video titled “FLT Partner and Member Appreciation Celebration” details the successful FLT/FWP partnership on projects at Somers Beach State Park and Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project, two dynamic community conservation projects in the Flathead.

     Jeff Jones has served on the FLT board since 2013 and as treasurer since 2014. 

Flathead Land Trust Photo: From left: Paul Travis, FLT Executive Director; Jeff Jones, FLT Board Treasurer; Kris Tempel, FWP Habitat Conservation Biologist; Jim Williams, FWP Region 1 Supervisor.

Doug Chadwick Views Nature as a Cautious But “Willful Optimist”

      Wildlife biologist, author, photographer, conservationist, Montanan, writer, and Vital Ground Foundation board member Douglas Chadwick’s webinar on Dec. 7 (organized by Vital Ground) touched on many subjects, and while some of them were fairly grim he remains optimistic about the Rocky Mountain west and our ability to interact with nature in positive ways.

     Even as the earth’s temperatures climb, wildlife populations drop to dangerous low numbers and species are imperiled, and the world’s population continues to increase, he has hope for his home range in western Montana.

     “This is a can-do deal,” he said at one point, meaning generally wildlife and land conservation in the Yellowstone to the Yukon area. “This is a being-done deal.” 

     Doug said he was encouraged by the actions of Vital Ground and other conservation groups that are working to conserve wildlife habitat and strategically conserving key wildlife corridors or connectivity areas necessary to retain genetically healthy populations. For example, in response to a question, he suggested no specific individual population of grizzly bears in Montana should be removed from the Endangered Species List until all grizzly bears in all the areas are connected through habitat and corridors that allow connectivity. 

     Vital Ground recorded the webinar which is available on YouTube.

Prickly Pear Land Trust: A Farm Forever

     From a Prickly Pear Land Trust social media post:

     A Farm Forever!

     Last week, PPLT completed a conservation easement on a thousand acres of prime, irrigated farmland and over 1.6 miles of Missouri River shoreline. 

     The Tri G River Ranch, between Toston and Townsend, is the latest completed conservation project by PPLT and the first in Broadwater County.

     This water and soil-rich valley property now has permanent, conservation protection. This stretch of the Mighty Mo will continue to feed the community, host vibrant trout and walleye populations, and provide a pitstop for huge flocks of migratory birds. 

Montana TNC: Managing Forests for the Future, Sustainably

     A feature story in The Missoulian outlined the multiple goals of logging operations within the Potomac area and underscores the challenges—and opportunities—of forest management across multiple land ownerships with a goal of shared resources outcomes.

     Under a headline of “Touch time for trees: Old logging lands need lots of work” the article showcases the management cooperation across jurisdictions among The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. 

   “We weren’t there to log it and get a bunch of stuff to the mills and make money,” Chris Bryant of The Nature Conservancy says in the article. “This work is cost — an investment in the forest. We’re trying to find ways of getting that cost down so it makes it possible to do things at scale.”

     The Nature Conservancy in Montana owns a significant amount of forestland in the area and is working to transfer the lands into public ownership. 

     “I hope we’re humble enough to not say we’re making a forest for anything,” Bryant added. “We’re using the best available science to create a forest that’s all those things. I can’t predict 50 or 100 years from now what society is going to expect from that forest. But nobody has aspirations to get back to industrial forest management on this landscape. I don’t see an industrial timber era with practices we’ve seen in the past having any chance of being sustainable at all.”  


Kaniksu Land Trust Conserves History, Public Access at Pine Street Hill

     History, conservation and public access are merging in Sandpoint as Kaniksu Land Trust seeks to acquire a  historic sledding hill on Pine Street, near KLT’s Pine Street Woods. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that 500 parcels five acres or larger have changed hands in Bonner County, but this parcel is special. The article headline is KLT Eyes Iconic Property for Community Access.  “Historic farmsteads such as this are disappearing at an alarming rate. This one in particular, which serves as the gateway to Pine Street Woods, is very special. KLT is doing everything possible to acquire this land in order to conserve it and to share it with our community,” Regan Plumb, KLT conservation director, said in the article. The property has “been part of the community’s history” for over 100 years, notes the Bee article.