Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

John Ormiston: Riding for the Brand

by Glenn Marx, MALT Executive Director

     John Ormiston, at the tender age of 82, has put his heart and soul – and his legs – into support for Bitter Root Land Trust.

     For about a dozen years now John has hopped on his bike for BRLT, raising money for his local land trust for every mile he rides…and he rides a lot of miles. I can personally attest that once you get on John’s list you are on his list forever, and you will know when John hops on his bike. You will be expected to donate, and you will donate. It’s pretty simple, actually.

     A recent Ravalli Republic article about John and his commitment to BRLT and area conservation, is headlined Riding the ‘Root: Ormiston to pedal for 12th year to help Bitter Root Land Trust. The article is full of classic John Ormiston quotes:

     “When I was 75, I decided I would try to get $100 for every year of my life. I raised $7,500. Last year, the goal was 10 grand. I raised about 11. I knew I had to exceed that this year — and since it was the 12th year — I set my goal at 12 grand. So far, I’m at $10,500.”

     “I think so far (in 2020) I’ve had about 129 people pledge to get to that $10,500. Last year, it was about 220. This year I haven’t been able to go to the Audubon meetings or places where crowds gather where I can pass around my clipboard. People know me by my clipboard.”

     I know John by his clipboard.

     Go John Go. The donation has been sent.

Conservation Fund 2019 Annual Report Highlights Results

The Conservation Fund 2019 Annual Report contains top-line stats that are pretty impressive. TCF completed 156 projects in 35 states conserving about 207,000 acres valued at over $323 million (35 more projects than in 2018). The TCF Working Forest Fund acquired more than 79,000 acres of high conservation value forestlands. The TCF Natural Capital Investment Fund provided $13.7 million in 61 loans and technical assistance to 194 small businesses and farm enterprises.

Congratulations to Denny and Becky Anderson, Missoula County Land Stewardship Award Recipients

The Montana Association of Land Trusts congratulates Becky and Denny Anderson, who live in the upper Miller Creek area of Missoula County, for receiving the 2020 Missoula County Land Stewardship Award.

Becky and Denny recently received the award during a celebration at an outdoor ceremony in the Miller Creek area. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation nominated the Andersons, and RMEF holds a conservation easement on the property. The Missoula County Community & Planning Services Newsletter also reports that:

The Anderson’s significant land steward practices include:

• Protecting their legacy through a 207-acre conservation easement on their land that conserves open space for fish and wildlife habitat, protecting water quality and conserving a working ranch, farmland, or forest.

• Working with partners (Clark Fork Coalition and others) to re-establish the stream channel and streambanks to a natural winding path and to restore wetlands.

• Planting of thousands of trees and shrubs in riparian area to stabilize stream banks and fencing the area to protect it from grazing.

• Maintaining highly productive farmland in a working ranch for hay production and pasture.

• Maintaining forest health in their timberlands.

Congratulations to Becky and Denny for the recognition of their conservation efforts and accomplishments.

Gallatin County Open Land Funds Tapped for Recreation Projects

      The 2018 voter-approved Gallatin County open land mill levy will soon help fund outdoor recreation projects in the county.

      The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported last week that county commissioners – with Montana Land Reliance and Gallatin Valley Land Trust support – will split the roughly $1.5 million levy funding with about $1.1 million available to fund conservation easements and conservation projects. The county open land program provides a major source of matching funds for the NRCS ALE Program in Gallatin County.

     About $264,000 will be allocated to trail construction and maintenance, the purchase of new trail easements and other outdoor recreation projects. An additional $141,000 will be earmarked for county parks.

     From the article: EJ Porth, associate director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, said…with the division of funding, projects like those in the Triangle Trails Plan, a roadmap for creating trails in the area west of Bozeman, could come to fruition.“We know we have a lot of work to do on conservation, but we also know there is plenty of work to do on the recreation and public access side,” she said.

     The Montana Land Reliance, which often applies for funding from the open lands board to purchase land and complete conservation easements in Gallatin County, said it supports the new funding system.

     “We’re growing so fast that all the conservation that we can do is going to help protect what we all love so much in the county for the future,” said the group’s Greater Yellowstone manager Kathryn Kelly.

Vital Ground Plans Sept. 18 Celebration

The Vital Ground Foundation announced last week a virtual 30th Anniversary Celebration set to take place on Sept. 18.

The celebration will offer a video chat with Vital Ground founders Doug and Lynne Seus (and Bart the Bear II), plus other special guests. A special auction to protect habitat is planned, with more information coming soon.

Senate Finance Committee Condemns Abusive Syndicated Transactions

The Senate Finance Committee has released a long-awaited report that condemns the abusive transactions by a handful of conservation easement syndicators and investors who primarily operate in the southeast portion of the US. The 187-report, released August 25, clearly calls on Congress to take action against the outrageous syndication of conservation easement tax benefits, and the Land Trust Alliance, the Montana Association of Land Trusts and its individual land trust members, and land trusts across the country applaud the report’s findings and also encourage Congress to take swift and certain action against the syndicators and their investors.

For over 40 years Montana land trusts and landowners have partnered to create conservation easements that produce farm and ranch conservation, wildlife habitat protection, open land protection, local economic stability and more, in part through the proper application of the charitable donation aspects within state law, federal law, and traditional  land conservation projects. No syndicated easements have been completed in Montana.

Syndicators generate easements for profit, abuse the charitable deduction provision, and example after example within the report document the abuse of the tax code to enrich syndicators and their investors.

MALT and the Alliance have worked with Montana Senator Steve Daines on S. 170, legislation pending in the Senate that would end the abusive syndicated transactions.

From the report: …in light of the continued use of these abusive transactions despite the issuance of IRS Notice 2017- 10, the Chairman and Ranking Member believe Congress, the IRS, and Department of the Treasury should take further action to preserve the integrity of the conservation-easement tax deduction.

The report concludes with this: If syndicated conservation-easement transactions continue to exist in the form they have over the past decade, they risk not only depriving the government of billions of dollars of revenue but also degrading the general understanding that our Nation’s tax laws apply equally to us all.

Gallatin Valley Land Trust Key Player in Triangle Area Trail Plan

Gallatin Valley Land Trust, together with Gallatin County,  are working together on a Triangle Area Trails Plans (Four Corners – Bozeman – Belgrade) and have created a website that provides information about the partnership and potential trails system.  An announcement from GVLT is also attached here.

From the announcement: The Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Gallatin County are proud to announce a collaborative effort to create a Triangle Area Trail Plan. During the Planning Coordinating Committee’s process to develop and adopt the Triangle Community Plan, it was clear that there were opportunities to expand the connected trail system into the ‘Triangle’ area of Gallatin County to support the plan’s vision. The Triangle is a rapidly developing area that will link the three communities, but has no active guide or requirement for trail development. Without a guide, trails develop in fragments that are challenging, costly or virtually impossible to connect in the future.  Now is the time to prevent a fragmented system and create a vision for a trail system in the Triangle Area.

Triangle Trail Plan Press Release

Private Land Conservation Creates Bigtime Public Benefits

Whitney Tilt, former board of directors chair at Gallatin Valley Land Trust and currently a principal at Conservation Benchmarks in Bozeman, writes in Outside Bozeman that the importance of private working lands to Montana conservation cannot be overstated. Tilt’s article is focused on the Greater Yellowstone area, but his comments ring true for all of Montana.

“As we extol our public lands—of which we can be justly proud—let us not overlook the importance of private working lands. For these are the most valuable lands in Montana, in terms of healthy soil and water, and in providing essential food and habitat for our state’s treasured wildlife,” he writes.

He adds, “Countless studies have documented the biological richness of the GYE. It is routinely described as ‘one of the largest nearly intact temperate zone ecosystems on Earth.’ It is a region renowned for its geological wonders, abundant wildlife, and scenic vistas. But often overlooked, amidst all the superlatives, is the tremendous importance of the region’s private lands and the owners who maintain them as working lands. These ranchers and farmers are the stewards of many of the things we enjoy most about living in this region—from abundant wildlife to healthy landscapes.”

The Montana land trust community is honored to work with landowners across Montana on conservation projects that benefit agricultural production, local economies, farm and ranch conservation, wildlife habitat, and more.

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Fish and Wildlife Commission Advances RMEF-Supported Big Snowy Mountains WMA

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is partnering with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks on a proposal that would create a 5,677-acre new wildlife management area near Judith Gap, in central Montana. The proposed Big Snowy Mountains Wildlife Management Area received tentative Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approval on August 13, which allows FWP to further pursue and evaluate the project, and to offer opportunity to gather public comment.

Under the proposal, the Big Snowy Mountain Wildlife Management Area would be owned and managed by MT FWP for conservation and hunting access. From the FWP August 13 meeting agenda documents: The Big Snowy Mountains WMA would be one contiguous block adjacent to the BLM’s Twin Coulee Wilderness Area (6,936 acres), which abuts the USFS’s Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area (88,696 acres). This native foothill habitat provides for a diverse assemblage of species, including critical winter range (as well as year-round habitat) for elk, mule deer, and pronghorn, as well has habitat for black bear, white-tailed deer, and other native species.