Easement Protects Century-Old Ranch (MT)

BOZEMAN, MONTANA,1/29/03: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) announced today that they have completed the purchase of a major conservation easement, which will protect a 100-year-old working ranch in the heart of the Gallatin Valley, along with a three-mile stretch of the East Gallatin River – one of southwest Montana’s premier blue-ribbon fly-fishing streams.

The project is Montana’s first major conservation easement purchase funded with proceeds from the Gallatin County Open Space Grant Program and the federal Farmland Protection Program.

The transaction places a conservation easement on almost 960 acres of ranchland that has been continuously owned and operated by the Cowan and Skinner Ranch Corporation since the late-1800’s. The easement, which has been appraised at $3,660,000, is being purchased for a bargain price of $2,000,000. Funding for the purchase includes $950,000 from the Gallatin County Open Space Program, $1,000,000 from the federal Farmland Protection Program and $50,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of its Greater Yellowstone Land Protection Initiative. The conservation easement, which significantly limits the future development potential of the property while allowing traditional farming and ranching activities to continue, will be held by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust for long-term monitoring and stewardship.

Joe Skinner, speaking on behalf of the corporation, said that he was extremely pleased with his family’s decision to sell the easement. “Our family loves this land and is deeply committed to making sure that it is conserved for our kids and future generations. The easement that we are placing on our property conserves critical wildlife habitat, protects an important trout spawning ground and ensures that our family ranch remains a viable agricultural unit.”

Two years ago, voters in fast-growing Gallatin County passed a $10 million bond to protect critical farm and ranchland, wildlife habitat and open space. The bond measure, which received almost 60% of the vote, is being closely watched throughout the region and, if successful, could serve as a model that other communities could copy to protect those landscapes that they care about.

As Gallatin County Commissioner Bill Murdock put it, “this project is exactly what we had in mind when we put this issue in front of the voters two years ago. It is a perfect example of the agricultural heritage and quality of life that we are trying to protect in this county.”

Dave White, State Conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service, praised the easement purchase, saying that his agency was thrilled to be part of the deal. “This is the first major Farmland Protection Program project that our agency has funded in the State of Montana. It is truly a “model” project. The 2002 Farm Bill has given us both the flexibility and funding to protect these lands, preserve open space and help keep farmers and ranchers on the land.” In fiscal year 2002, national funding for the Farmland Protection Program totaled $50 million. Two years from now, this figure could jump as high as $125 million.

As part of its Working Lands program, The Trust for Public Land has been working with communities throughout the West, promoting a voluntary and incentive based approach to protecting both the economic productivity and ecological welfare of working lands and to prevent them from being lost to sprawl. Two years ago, TPL, in cooperation with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Western Governors Association, published a report entitled Purchase of Development Rights: Conserving Lands, Preserving Western Livelihoods. The report, which has been widely distributed and well received, provides practical, on-the-ground information about how landowners and their communities can use PDR programs to protect their working lands and their way of life.

According to Alex Diekmann, TPL’s local project manager, “the Skinner Ranch easement purchase is a perfect illustration of the message that we are trying to send. PDR programs are a voluntary, market-based approach to conservation that protects land from development, compensates farmers and ranchers for the rights that they are giving up and keeps them on the land. Since farmers and ranchers control much of our most cherished landscapes in the West, helping them to achieve their personal and financial goals is critical.”

Debbie Deagen, Executive Director for GVLT, emphasized the multiple values that are being protected by purchasing a conservation easement on the Skinner Ranch. “As a local community organization, GVLT is honored to partner with a family that has been part of the community for generations. Together with the Skinner family, we have designed a conservation easement that preserves the flexibility the family needs to maintain a working agricultural operation, while also preserving important wildlife habitat and the scenic character of the East Gallatin River.”

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit organization, conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations. Since 1972, TPL has protected over 1.5 million acres nationwide with a value of more than $2 billion. Projects in Montana include protection of Garnet Ghost Town, Lindbergh Lake, the Swan River Valley, Thompson and Fisher River Valleys, waterfowl habitat at the Blasdel National Wildlife Refuge and National Forest lands north of Yellowstone National Park. TPL has offices in Bozeman and Helena.

GVLT is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the conservation of open space, agricultural land, wildlife habitat and the creation of public trails in southwestern Montana. Since 1990, GVLT has partnered with 43 families, family trusts and corporations to protect over 10,000 acres in Gallatin, Park, Madison and Jefferson counties through its conservation easement program. These protected areas include working farms and ranches, scenic views, critical wildlife habitat and urban open space. GVLT also has an active community trails program and is working with volunteers and local organizations to build the twenty-four mile “Main Street to the Mountains” trail system, which will one day connect downtown Bozeman with the Bridger Mountains to the north and the Hyalite Mountains to the south.