After months of discussions, research and planning with local officials, Gallatin County land trusts are advocating an open land levy vote in June, a move supported by the Gallatin County Commission.
The Trust for Public Land, two state agencies, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Weyerhaeuser have teamed up to conserve over 7,000 acres of forestland near Whitefish in northwest Montana. The Flathead Beacon reported that the complex transaction called for TPL to purchase the land from Weyerhaeuser, and after the fee title purchase, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks purchased a conservation easement on the property that allows for sustainable forest management of the property. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation closed purchase of the land on Feb. 15, and will manage it as part of the Stillwater State Forest. Montana’s two senators support the deal. Listing its benefits, Sen. Jon Tester called it a “win-win-win-win-win.“ Sen. Steve Daines said, “It’s good to see federal, state and private partners come together to protect public access and timber management.”
Five Valleys Land Trust, the NRCS, the Missoula County Commission and county Open Space Program have successfully worked with the Hayes family to conserve 569 acres of historical ranch ground near Potomac. Lee Newspapers featured the county’s funding approval for the project and the historical and agricultural value of the property in its Feb. 18 editions. “The working landscape with 94 percent important agricultural soils includes grassland, forest and wetland habitats that connect with other private, protected lands,“ said Vickie Edwards, Five Valleys conservation projects manager. “This easement exemplifies that voluntary, private land conservation and conservation easements are effective tools in conserving important agricultural soils in Missoula County.”
Senator Steve Daines has been working with the Land Trust Alliance leadership on a Senate version of H.R. 4459, The Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2917, and on Feb. 16 the Senator introduced S. 2436. The essentially identical bills seek to address the issue of conservation easement “syndication“ by: 1) Stopping those who would abuse a charitable incentive for profit, while 2) Continuing to reward honest philanthropy. MALT Board President Gavin Ricklefs sent individual letters to all three members of the Montana Congressional Delegation expressing MALT’s appreciation for Sen. Daines’ sponsorship and voicing land trust support for the legislation. In his letter, Gavin writes that, “We cannot afford to lose public support for this important conservation tool that you helped put into place to recognize and reward true charity. Previous attempts by the IRS and the conservation community to halt these abusive transactions have been unsuccessful. That’s where the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act comes in. It will continue to reward honest philanthropy and stop those who would abuse a charitable incentive for profit. This bill is straightforward and narrowly drafted, and it takes care to create an important exception for family partnerships.” A copy the MALT’s letter to Senator Daines is attached. In an Alliance press release, Alliance President Andrew Bowman said, “These bipartisan bills would prevent abuse while ensuring the vast majority of conservation easements can continue to go forward as truly charitable endeavors. On behalf of the Alliance’s 1,000 member land trusts, I applaud Sen. Daines, Sen. Stabenow, Rep. Thompson and Rep. Kelly for their leadership on this urgent issue.”
Flathead Land Trust announced it has been selected by Park Side Credit Union to be part of the Park Side Partner Program in 2018. Two other Flathead nonprofits partnering with Park Side Credit Union are the Nate Chute Foundation and Kalispell HEART Program. FLT reports the unique, innovative campaign is in its seventh year and Park Side has donated more than $150,000 to over thirty nonprofit organizations through the Partner Program. “Our objective is to create an unparalleled network of collaboration within and among the nonprofit sector, and the credit union couldn’t be happier to facilitate such an achievement“ says Josh Kroll, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Park Side.
The Nature Conservancy in Montana is working with the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program and the Hansen Ranch near Dillon to conserve 13,810 acres of critical sage grouse habitat. Comments on are the proposal are being accepted until March 14.
A large group of land trust conservation easement stewards met recently to exchange information about their roles and their work within the world of Montana private land conservation. An article in the MALT newsletter contains a photo and more information about the meeting, which took place at Five Valley Land Trust’s Confluence Property. Stewards work with landowners and help organizations monitor and enforce conservation easements.
The Vital Ground Foundation, a nonprofit land trust based in Missoula and focused on grizzly bear conservation, has a new logo. The new logo features artist Monte Dolack’s walking grizzly from “The Great Bear.”
The Missoula County Parks, Trails and Open Lands Program is gathering information about the benefits of the program, and is also examining a proposal to help fund conservation of a 596-acre ranch in the Potomac area. From the Missoulian article: “This project would conserve working lands as well as wildlife habitat and open space,“ said Kali Becher, the natural resource specialist for the county’s Parks, Trails and Open Lands program. “There is a small wetland area in the lower portions of the ranch. It’s currently undeveloped land and contains a lot of agricultural land and valuable timber land.” The easement is being coordinated by the Five Valleys Land Trust.
Jeff Laszlo, of the Western Landowners Alliance, writes in op-ed about sage grouse conservation: It’s now time for landowners, producers and rural communities to contact their representatives in Washington, D.C., and ask for strong support of Farm Bill conservation programs. Taking on shared challenges like species conservation and recovery increasingly requires that we look beyond geographic, political and jurisdictional boundaries to achieve the enduring outcomes that everyone desires.”