Gallatin County Ranchland Protected (MT)

BOZEMAN, MONTANA – 2/10/04 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), together with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), the Gallatin County Open Lands Board and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), announced today that they have completed a major conservation easement purchase, which will protect 1,572 acres of farm and ranchland in the heart of the Gallatin Valley. The project is the largest conservation easement purchase ever funded in Montana through the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.

The transaction places a conservation easement on 1,572 acres of highly visible farm and ranchland at the base of the Horseshoe Hills, north of Belgrade. The easement, which has been appraised at $2,170,000, is being purchased for a bargain price of $1,075,000. Funding for the purchase includes $437,500 from the Gallatin County Open Space Program, $537,500 from the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and $100,000 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.

Property owner Wallace Brownell said that he is pleased with his family’s decision to sell the easement. “Our family loves this land and the open space that it offers. We already have subdivisions on three sides of our ranch. The conservation easement that we are selling to the County will guarantee that the same thing does not happen here. It will also conserve valuable wildlife habitat and an important viewshed that can be seen from downtown Bozeman and many other parts of the County.”

Three 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 another good example of what we had in mind when we put the bond on the ballot three years ago. It conserves important agricultural, wildlife and scenic values and builds on the investment that we made last year when the County purchased a conservation easement on the Skinner Ranch next door.”

Dave White, State Conservationist for the NRCS, praised the easement purchase, saying that his agency was thrilled to be part of the deal. “It’s great that the NRCS is able to help Gallatin County protect its agricultural heritage and ensure that its ranching families are able to stay on the land. The funding that we are able to contribute through the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program is an important stimulant for this kind of conservation throughout Montana.”

Michael Harris, Gallatin County Open Land Coordinator, praised the work of TPL, the NRCS and the Brownell family. As he put it, “this is exactly the type of proactive and voluntary-based conservation project that the Open Lands Program looks for.”

According to Alex Diekmann, TPL’s local project manager, “the Brownell Ranch easement purchase is a good example of what Purchase of Development Rights programs are all about. They are 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. TPL is proud to have worked so closely with GVLT, the NRCS and the Gallatin County Open Land Board and is hoping that this partnership will lead to many more successful projects.”

Jim Madden, Lands Conservation Coordinator for GVLT, added: “The Brownells have been farming and ranching in the Gallatin Valley for four generations. GVLT is pleased to be able to assist the Brownell family in meeting its goal of keeping the Brownell Ranch available for agriculture for future generations.”

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.

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.