Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

Vital Ground Land Purchase Conserves Key Swan Parcel

The Vital Ground Foundation has announced the acquisition of an important 20-acre parcel of wildlife connectivity land in the Swan Valley. The newly-protected acres lie in the Simmons Meadow wetland complex, adjacent to public lands and a Vital Ground conservation easement donated by a conservation-minded landowner in the area. By connecting large blocks of public land to the east and west, these conserved properties form a key portion of the Upper Swan’s habitat corridor, an established linkage zone for wildlife moving between the Mission and Swan mountain ranges.

This undeveloped property provides key East-West habitat connectivity for myriad wildlife species that call the Swan Valley home,” said Luke Lamar, Conservation Director for Swan Valley Connections, a conservation and education nonprofit and frequent Vital Ground partner based in Condon. “Vital Ground’s purchase will ensure the property remains open space and an iconic view of the Swan Range will remain undeveloped.”

“With the intense real estate market escalations we’re seeing in Montana and across the Mountain West, it’s extremely important that we conserve remaining habitat linkages on private lands,” says Ryan Lutey, Executive Director of Vital Ground. “Whether it’s within existing grizzly range or helping reconnect isolated subpopulations, countless species will benefit from more connected, protected landscapes.”

Bitter Root Land Trust and the NRCS Close Easement on Yoder Angus Ranch

     The Bitter Root Land Trust and the Montana NRCS recently closed an ALE Program conservation easement on the 155-acre Yoder Angus Ranch northeast of Stevensville in the Bitterroot Valley.  

     BRLT executive director Gavin Ricklefs announced the closing of the project in a 55-second video with the ranch in the background. 

     From a BRLT eNewsletter: This family ranch rests on 155 acres of valuable Bitterroot agricultural ground and is home to a cow-calf operation, as well as to a variety of wildlife including ducks, hawks, geese, fox and elk. The ranch is operated by the Yoder family who cherish the opportunity to continue a traditional way of life working in agriculture, and look forward to passing the ranch down to their children  someday. 

     “We knew if we didn’t do something to conserve this land today, it wouldn’t look like this tomorrow,” said Jake Yoder, landowner. “Knowing that we will still be able to wake up and see manure on the ground, cows in the pasture and saddled horses for years to come makes this more  than worth it.”

     Seventeen additional conservation easements are located near the Yoder Ranch. Funding for the project came from the Farm Bill’s Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) Program and the Ravalli County Open Lands Program. 

(Below) Ravalli Republic Photo 

TPL’s Land&People Magazine Salutes Story Mill Community Park

     Under a headline of “A Never-Ending Story,” The Trust for Public Land’s Fall/Winter 2021 edition of Land&People Magazine takes a look at Bozeman’s population growth and development, as well as recognition by local voters how important land conservation and outdoor recreation are. 

    It’s no surprise that Story Mill Community Park plays a starring role within the article. A quote from Maddy Pope, who helped lead the Story Mill Park project until her retirement in 2019, sums it up best: Creating Story Mill Community Park was “really about Bozeman coming together collectively to think about what our ‘best self’ is.”

Article photo: Residents of Bozeman have been voting in support of conservation for a very long time, says David Weinstein (with his pal Tippett), the Western conservation finance director in The Trust for Public Land’s Bozeman office.

Flathead Land Trust’s Laura Katzman Works to Conserve “Special Places”

     Laura Katzman’s story isn’t different from a lot of people who now call Montana home. She arrived here from somewhere else—Wisconsin—to obtain a master’s degree from the University of Montana, stayed, and found a job in conservation. She began work as a fisheries biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, took some family time off with her husband and kids, and then in 2008 her career—and life—took a turn toward private land conservation. 

     The Flathead, particularly Flathead Land Trust, is glad she did.

     A feature article in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake profiles Katzman’s tenure as a land protection specialist with FLT, highlighting her efforts on a myriad of high profile Flathead conservation projects. Some of her and FLT’s notable projects include the Somers Beach Project (a partnership with MTFWP), the West Valley wetlands project, the popular Flathead Lake North Shore efforts, and the Smith Lake wildlife and wetlands project. Another major FLT partnership project, the proposed Bad Rock Canyon Wildlife Management Area with MT FWP, was recently approved unanimously by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission and on Nov. 15 was unanimously by the Montana Land Board. All the while she has also focused on the River to Lake Initiative.

     “It (The River to Lake Initiative) has been meeting for 20 years and we’ve developed partnerships with Flathead Audubon, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe, Fish, Wildlife and Parks and others,” Katzman said in the article. “The project area is critical to fish and wildlife and for people who are living in the valley near the river, we love working with them to protect those areas.”

     She also discusses the value of conservation easements to local landowners.

     “When we work on conservation easements we always work with the landowners to help them achieve their goals with their land,” Katzman said. “We’re not trying to take private land. It’s all about what the landowner wants.”

     The article notes more FLT partnership projects are in progress…Bigfork Community Trails, a project in the Mission Valley, and one along the Stillwater River.

     “Our hope is to continue to protect the special places in the Flathead Valley,” Katzman said in the article. “The rich farmland, fish and wildlife and the things people come here for.”

GVLT, Ring Family Conserve Big Sky Lands

     Gallatin Valley Land Trust had some great news recently: Here it is, in their own words, via social media:

     Here’s some good news for your Friday: We have officially completed our 120th conservation easement! The 200-acre Big Sky Ring property consists of incredible views, water resources, and unspoiled wildlife habitat. Harald and Peggy Ring have owned and stewarded this land for nearly 30 years and were passionate about protecting these conservation values forever. The GVLT Lands team was thrilled to help bring their vision to reality. This easement brings GVLT’s total acres conserved to 51,148 acres. We could never do what we do without the support of the ranchers, farmers and landowners of southwest Montana. Thank you so much, Ring Family, for working with GVLT!

Outdoor Recreation Means Business in Montana

     The 2020 economic figures have been released, and here in Montana the data shows again that outdoor recreation is an engine that drives the state’s economy. An article in the Flathead Beacon reports that Montana’s $2.2 billion outdoor recreation industry accounted for 4.3% of the state’s GDP last year — a higher percentage than any other state. The next closest was Hawaii, with 3.8%. The report also found that Montana is toward the head of the pack for employment in the outdoor recreation sector, with employment topping 26,000 jobs, or 5.4% of the state’s total employment.

Land Board Gives Bad Rock Canyon Project Unanimous Approval

Great news…the Montana Land Board just unanimously approved the Bad Rock Canyon conservation project, which creates permanent public access on 772 acres of former Columbia Falls Aluminum Company lands near Columbia Falls. Thank you CFAC, Flathead Land Trust, MTFWP, and everyone who supported this project. The project was supported by Flathead County Commission, local Realtors, local chamber of commerce, City of Columbia Falls and much more. The Bad Rock Canyon WMA will be a major economic asset to Columbia Falls. THANK YOU to the land board!

Aerial view of the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project, which encompasses 800 acres along the south bank of the Flathead River east of Columbia Falls as seen on March 9, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

GVLT Celebrates Opening of Wellness Trail

       Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Bozeman Health, and other project partners celebrated the opening of the Wellness Trail on Nov. 3, a key connector trail at the Highland Glen Nature Preserve and the Main Street to the Mountains trail network.

     The Bozeman Daily Chronicle article details the benefits—physically, emotionally, mentally—of the new section of trail.

     Chet Work, executive director of GVLT, said opening the Wellness Trail allows patients at the Mental Health Center better access to nature at Highland Glen. From the article: While Work wished the trail could have been completed at the onset of the pandemic, he’s glad it’s here now.

“During this pandemic, there’s probably been no greater need than mental health and that connection to the outdoors,” he said. “I think we’ve all either been personally struggling with mental health or we’ve had one degree of separation from someone who is struggling with mental health.”

PHOTO: Brianne Rogers of Bozeman Health cuts the ribbon to open the new section of trail. GVLT’s Chet Work is at left.

Time to Have Somea Fun With Five Valleys Land Trust at the Great Biga Pizza BakefOf

     The Montana land trust community has long known that craft beers and land conservation are a great combination. Five Valleys Land Trust is proving that pizza (especially Biga Pizza) and land conservation is also a great combination. Five Valleys is holding a (fourth annual) Nov. 14 event titled Pizza and Conservation: The Great Biga Pizza Bake Off. The YouTube event starts at 6:30 and features a “celebrity bake-off” that includes Bart Morris from the Oxbow Cattle Company as a contestant. Visit the Five Valleys website for ticket information and full details.

NRCS Sets FY22 ALE Deadline; FY23 ALE Deadline Goal Planned

     A Nov. 3 virtual meeting led by NRCS State Conservationist Tom Watson and NRCS Assistant State Conservationist (Easements) Allen Persinger with about 15 Montana land trust participants cleared up uncertainty about the FY22 and FY23 Montana ALE Program application deadlines. The ALE Program was created in the 2014 Farm Bill to maintain farm and ranch operations and maintain food production.

     The FY22 ALE project deadline is Jan. 28, 2022.

     Montana land trusts should expect the FY23 project deadline to be Jan. 2, 2023. Watson explained his goal, and his expectation, is that the FY23 deadline, or “batching date”, since the NRCS accepts ALE Program project applications throughout the year, will be Jan. 2, 2023. That date, however, cannot be firmly fixed until after Oct. 1, 2022, when the NRCS national headquarters will provide guidance on FY23 program provisions. It should be pointed out that while the NRCS accepts ALE Program project applications throughout the year, a project application submitted on or before Jan. 28, 2022, for example, would be eligible for federal FY22 consideration and funding. A project submitted Jan. 29, 2022, however, would technically not be actively considered until the federal FY23 year begins on Oct. 1, 2022. 

     Watson explained Montana is the top ALE Program in the nation, both in acres conserved and funding allocated. The added workload within the NRCS to achieve those conserved acres and allocate those funds requires a rigorous internal process and increased ALE Program staff responsibilities. The NRCS internal procedures and timelines are increasingly complex, he added, and Montana land trust participation in RCPP (Regional Conservation Partnership Program) is also growing (which is a good thing). MALT expresses appreciation to Watson, Persinger, and Montana ALE Program Coordinator Brian Ohs for organizing and leading the call.