Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

Keeping It In Grass

     An article from the USDA through its information service showcases an eastern Montana ranch conservation easement that includes a wonderful collection of quotes about the value of land conservation.

     The article, titled The Value of Keeping it in Grass, written by Brianna Randall of the NRCS, profiles the Burke family (Kelly, Tami and their three children)  and their 18,000-acre Desert Coulee Ranch.

     Here’s a sampling of the quotes:

     Tracy Cumber, NRCS district conservationist in Glasgow: “I’ve found that the Burkes are committed to this community, to their family, and to the future of agriculture. They decided an easement was the right decision to conserve their ranch not only for their own children but also for future generations.”

     Kelly: “The most appealing aspect was the financial benefit. But I also like that this will stay intact as one ranch forever.”

     Brian Martin, The Nature Conservancy: “Everything you need to do to operate a ranch is compatible with an easement. We’ve been successful because neighbors talk to neighbors. They see you can still raise cows with an easement, and that it benefits local families…It’s an easy win-win between ranching and conservation. We all value keeping it in grass, that’s the common thread.”   


Vital Ground Conserves Key Yaak Valley Habitat

    The Vital Ground Foundation has teamed up with the Humane Society Wildlife Trust to purchase 315 acres of important wildlife habitat in northwest Montana’s Yaak Valley, centered around Fowler Creek, a tributary of the Yaak River that is a well-traveled pathway for several wildlife species including elk, moose and grizzly bears.

     The 315-acre property is located near Vital Ground’s Broadie Habitat Preserve, a 2020 project also completed with support from the Humane Society Wildlife Trust. The Fowler Creek project reflects Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative strategy, an effort to connect a single, regional landscape in the Northern Rockies and Inland Northwest. With clean water, lush vegetation and easy travel beneath big mountains, these special areas attract both bears and humans for good reason.     

     “Real estate markets throughout the Northern Rockies have never been under the kind of pressure they’re experiencing right now,” says Ryan Lutey, Vital Ground’s executive director. “You can bet that every acre of developable private land that is not already permanently protected for agriculture, open space or wildlife habitat is currently subject to some analysis of its highest and best use. That makes it extremely hard to compete against the speculative development pricing we’re seeing, but simultaneously increases the importance of every acre protected. With partners like the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust and  projects like Fowler Creek, we continue to do our best to match pace with these challenges.”

Good News: Governor Vetoes SB 278; “Anti-Nonprofit” Proposal

      Some good news: Governor Greg Gianforte on May 14 vetoed SB 278, a bill that contained provisions designed to penalize nonprofit environmental organizations. SB 278 would make nonprofit legal actions “challenging or supporting a government action” a taxable action under unrelated business income, and also require a nonprofit that challenges or supports a government action to – “under penalty or perjury” – file documentation with the Montana Attorney General listing the source of each donation over $50. 

     The anti-nonprofit language was inserted late in the legislative process without any opportunity for public comment.

     MALT opposed SB 278 and thanks Gov. Gianforte for his veto.

Montana Receives Additional ALE Funds

Brian Ohs, Montana ALE Progam Coordinator     

     I have some good news for the Montana ALE Program. MALT members applying for FY21 funding were awarded another $3.46 million last week. This appropriation constituted 40% of the money allotted from the April funding request and along with the initial allocation of $9.11 million will preliminarily allow the NRCS to obligate funding to eight ALE projects this year. A special thank you to NRCS staff and State Conservationist Tom Watson for their tireless efforts to more bring money into the state for private land conservation over the past several months.

     Also, congratulations to Jennifer Hayward, who has been selected to serve as the interim conservationist for the ACEP ALE Program within the Montana NRCS. Jennifer is currently a District Conservationist in Pinedale, Wyoming, and has ALE experience with our neighbors to the south. Jennifer’s detail begins on May 24 and we look forward to working with her in the coming days.

     Finally, I will be reaching out to MALT conservation easement practitioners this week to begin gathering information for the July NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) meeting, which will be addressing recommendations for a new definition of “Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance” (GSS). You may recall that during the March STAC meeting, the committee directed the Wildlife and Rangeland subcommittee to craft a more acute definition of GSS. The intent will be to submit comments and recommendations to the STAC by the end of June.

Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project Closes Funding Gap

So very close…almost there: With nearly $7 million raised toward its fundraising goal, the 772-acre Bad Rock Canyon parcel along the Flathead River near Columbia Falls is poised to gain protection for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation. Read more in this Flathead Beacon article.

A creek runs through the Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project area, 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

Registration Open for Prickly Pear Land Trust’s Don’t Fence Me In Trail Run and Challenge

From Prickly Pear Land Trust:

Join hundreds of trail enthusiasts in Helena for the 21st Annual Don’t Fence Me In Virtual Trail Run and Trail Challenge. We just couldn’t let such an important community event go by the wayside, so we’re going virtual again this year. By taking our wanderlust to a whole new level and going “off the grid” of the traditional race structure, we hope that even more folks can continue join in the fun until we can safely hold an in-person race once again.

The turnout and enthusiasm for our first-ever virtual race and challenge last year blew us away. This year we’ve got a few new twists in store.

The annual trail run has been a major community event for years and is a huge fundraiser for Prickly Pear Land Trust’s work. Funds from this race support ongoing projects like the Mount Ascension and Mount Helena land acquisitions, South Hills trail maintenance, and Tenmile Creek Park. This year, it’s once again all about coming together in the ways we can, celebrating our unifying love of fresh air, and just letting off some steam and running wild.

Register now for the Trail Challenge for just $30. As always, kids 17 and under register for free! Sign Fido up for the dog challenge for an additional $5 or, for $5 each, add the 5k, 12k, 20k, 30k, and new Quadfecta.