Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

USFWS Reports FY20 Successes

     The US Fish & Wildlife Service is reporting a productive FY20 in Montana, with 37,000 acres of closed conservation easements and fee acquisitions valued at $17 million, including projects in places like the Little Valley Ranch (pictured) north of Avon on Highway 141.

     Other projects highlighted by the USFWS in Montana include projects near Choteau, in the Blackfoot Valley, at Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. Major ongoing USWFS projects in FY20 include work with The Trust for Public Land and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks on the Lost Trail Conservation Area proposal.

     In addition to landowners, FWP and TPL, major partners and funding sources for the USFWS in FY20 include the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund.

Conservation Easement Stewardship Featured in Forest Publication

     The important role of conservation easement monitoring and stewardship was the focus of a recent article in the The Forest Steward’s Journal, a publication produced by the Forest Stewardship Foundation. The article, written by MALT’s Glenn Marx, highlights the importance of conservation easement monitoring – particularly forested lands held under easement – from the perspective of a land steward, a landowner and two different land trusts.

     Andrea “Andy” Darling, a Montana Land Reliance steward, a natural resources consultant, and a Forest Stewardship Foundation board member, explains in the article how she and the MLR approach monitoring and working with landowners on conservation easement monitoring and compliance, and how active forest management is consistent with forest health objectives within the easement.

     Ed Levert, a longtime forest leader in Montana and president of the Forest Stewardship Foundation, also discusses his forest property in northwest Montana. Levert says that he effectively and successfully manages his forest under a conservation easement – that he helped write – held by The Vital Ground Foundation.

     “The relationship between me and Vital Ground is fully cooperative and has been from the very beginning,” Levert says in the article. “There’s been education for both of us through the process, and they’ve been receptive of my ideas and management goals.”

     “Ed helped Vital Ground design language for our easement templates that recognizes and accommodates the needs of forest landowners and forest management,” Ryan Lutey of Vital Ground says in the article. “Both Ed and Bud Moore (legendary forest manager and author of “The Lochsa Story – Land Ethics in the Bitterroot Mountains”) helped shape the organization’s philosophy on active forest management as a transient disruption that, when done correctly, ultimately improves forest health and benefits many of the conservation values our easements are designed to protect.”

The Vital Ground Foundation and Blackfeet Nation Conserve Key Wildlife Habitat Near Glacier Park

The Vital Ground Foundation, a regional land trust based in Missoula, has partnered with the Blackfeet Nation to conserve 74 acres of important wildlife habitat along Kennedy Creek east of Glacier National Park.

A nonprofit land trust that protects key movement areas for grizzly bears and other wildlife, Vital Ground purchased the acreage before immediately transferring ownership to the Blackfeet Nation. Previously a private inholding surrounded by tribal lands, the site provides habitat lush with conifers, aspen and other vegetation, leading to heavy traffic from grizzly bears and other species.

Kennedy Creek flows from mountain headwaters in Glacier National Park through the project area, passing near Yellow Mountain and Chief Mountain, a prominent sacred site in Blackfeet cultural traditions.

“I am very pleased that Vital Ground was able to partner with the Blackfeet Nation to protect the ecological integrity of the Chief Mountain-Yellow Mountain area,” said Buzz Cobell, Director of Blackfeet Nation Fish and Wildlife. “Kennedy Creek is inhabited by one of the few populations of bull trout existing on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains. In addition, this area is used extensively by grizzly bears, moose, elk, deer and other important wildlife species. Thanks to our collaborative efforts this special area will continue to be wild and undeveloped.”

“Protecting this irreplaceable wildlife habitat at the footsteps of Glacier National Park fits squarely within our One Landscape strategy,” said Vital Ground Conservation Manager Mitch Doherty. “But this project goes beyond protecting land for wildlife. Working with members of the Blackfeet Nation, Vital Ground was able to return this land to the people who have been caring for it since time immemorial.”

GVLT Goes for Smiles

      At a time when Montana is battling wildfires, a pandemic, and economic uncertainty, Gallatin Valley Land Trust and the Random Acts of Silliness children’s theater partnered to bring fun to the outdoors and smiles to the faces of Bozeman area kids and adults.

     “It’s something we really need in our community,” said Hannah Overton, a Gallatin Valley Land Trust coordinator. The land trust partnered with Random Acts of Silliness to organize two outdoor improv shows and a self-guided fairy village experience. “We’re going to keep doing this,” Overton said. The GVLT website has details about the events, including a fairy village experience that runs Sept. 22 to Oct. 5.

New State COVID Funds Available

     Governor Bullock announced last week additional COVID relief funding is available through  the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (scroll down a bit on the website) Social Services Nonprofit Grants. The application window for nonprofits is open now and eligible entities can apply for grants equal to 10% of their operating budgets, with a maximum of $150,000 requested. Details are available on the website. Entities that received a grant in Round 1 of the grants awards should have directly  received information about the new funding. Nonprofits that did not apply in Round 1 are eligible to apply in Round 2.

The Vital Ground 30th Anniversary Online Celebration Ongoing Today

From The Vital Ground Foundation:

Tonight’s the night! Join us at 5 p.m. MDT (7 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. CDT, 4 p.m. PDT) as we celebrate 30 years of conservation with a special online event. If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to sign up!

We can’t wait for you to join us this evening. Together with Vital Ground co-founders Doug and Lynne Seus and other supporters like you, we’ll honor three decades of protecting habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife and look ahead at the vision that will guide our work for decades to come. The event will include:

  • Live video call with Vital Ground staff, Doug and Lynne Seus, and conservation supporters from around the country and globe!
  • Special appearance by Bart the Bear II
  • Exciting news on our latest habitat protection projects
  • One Landscape short film premiere
  • Updates from our online auction and Fund the Cause matching challenge

Speaking of our 30th Anniversary Online Auction, have you had a chance to check it out? From once-in-a-lifetime travel and recreation opportunities to wildlife art to handmade goods, there’s something for everyone and it’s all in support of habitat conservation!

If bidding wars aren’t your thing, one of our auction’s most important features is Fund the Cause, which allows you to directly protect crucial wildlife habitat. PLUS, if our Fund the Cause total reaches $35,000, the Johnson Family Foundation will match it! We still need to raise an additional $24,000, however, so we need your help to meet this goal. Your support of Fund the Cause will carry double impact for grizzlies and all things wild!

Auction bidding will close after the event (at 7 p.m. MDT tonight) but Fund the Cause will stay open through the weekend. So after you sign up for tonight’s celebration via our registration page, be sure to place your bids and help Fund the Cause!

Thank you for 30 years of working for wildlife. We can’t wait to celebrate with you soon!

–The Vital Ground Team

The Nature Conservancy Completes Innovative Northern Great Plains Conservation Project

     The Nature Conservancy has completed a conservation project on Montana’s Northern Great Plains that was a few years in the making…but worth the wait.

     The 4,340-acre project on the prairie south of Malta includes a unique partnership with landowners. After purchasing the property, TNC sold it to neighboring landowners, with a conservation easement on the property. As part of the partnership, landowners who purchased the property worked to place conservation easements on some of the land they own.

     Because the easement on the 4,340 acres prevents cropland conversion, the project makes the land eligible for carbon offset payments, which provides an income stream for the new landowners.

     “TNC’s original purchase of this land was a leap of faith for us, since we didn’t wish to be permanent owners. It was based on the trust that we have forged with this ranching community. We are glad to have it in the hands of ranch families with a demonstrated commitment to conservation,” says Brian Martin, Grassland Conservation Director for TNC.

     The project area is just north of the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, and harbors several important and/or declining bird species.

     The NRCS ALE Program and The Conservation Fund were key funding partners for the project.

Photo: Jolynn Messerly/TNC


Bitter Root Land Trust: Having a Virtual Good Time

      Bitter Root Land Trust has launched a series of Homegrown Events, and virtually everyone is invited to participate. Running August 20 to Sept. 24, BRLT’s Homegrown Events offer something for everyone, whether you live in the Bitterroot or not. The series includes “Homegrown Picnic Baskets” filled with Bitterroot Valley products that are available for a $100 donation. There are also “Adventure Baskets” that include options like local fishing, horseback riding, and other Bitterroot adventures. There’s an outdoor challenge in which miles – running, walking, hiking and riding – are added up toward a goal of matching a $2,000 pledge from OnX. And it all ends with a live stream concert by “front-porch-pickin’ Pinegrass” with interludes about BRLT conservation easements.

     From BRLT: Welcome to a new way of doing things. This series of events are designed to make you feel right at home, in the Bitterroot Valley. Virtual events include an outdoor miles challenge, Bitterroot inspired picnic baskets, uniquely Bitterroot experiences for small groups, and a virtual music concert on a conservation easement.


Protect the Valley’s Long-Standing Ag Heritage

A letter to the editor in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake expresses support for the Flathead Valley’s legacy of — and the importance of — local food production in the face of population growth and increasing losses of agricultural land.

From Matt Gebhardt’s letter: “Sound policies must consider items like the long-standing agricultural heritage, the communities ag feeds, and ag’s economic contributions to the Valley and world.”


GVLT: New Trails Vision Means New Trails in New Neighborhoods

     Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s executive director, Chet Work, wrote an op-ed in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in which he and GVLT discuss exporting the success of “Main Street to the Mountains” to an informal “Main Street  to our neighborhoods, schools and businesses.”

     Chet, who recently arrived at GVLT with more than 20 years of land trust experience, wrote that Main Street to the Mountains is a great community success, and that GVLT and the community are justifiably proud of that achievement.

     GVLT, Bozeman Parks and Recreation, and Gallatin County would like to duplicate that success with a strong connector trail network throughout the county, including business and residential areas.

     From the op-ed: We envision a 12-mile “East to West” greenway that stretches past the new Gallatin High School and affordable housing developments like Larkspur Commons, through new neighborhoods like Flanders Mill Subdivision and around public parks like Story Mill Community Park and the Gallatin County Regional Park, along with growing centers of commerce like Midtown and the Cannery District.

     Read more about the effort in the GVLT website.