Conservation Easement, Amsterdam-Churchill

Conservation Easement, Amsterdam-Churchill

A pivot cuts through farmland west of Bozeman on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The county recently approved a conservation easement on the property, covering 426 acres.

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The Gallatin County Commission approved a request to spend roughly $263,000 for a conservation easement covering hundreds of acres in the western part of the county.

The easement, known as the Flikkema Homeplace Project, covers 426 acres near Amsterdam-Churchill, with Churchill Road dividing the property. The total value of the conservation easement is just over $1.8 million, with the county making a 14% contribution to the total cost.

The decision by the commission on Tuesday was “Level 2” approval, said Open Lands Coordinator Sean O’Callaghan. “Level 1” is the initial application process where the Open Lands Board looks at which applications it will recommend to the county commission. “Level 2” is when the money comes.

“We’re working to get the funding to them to make that happen,” O’Callaghan said.

Maynard and Eileen Flikkema have had the land in their family since 1893. Up to three generations have owned and worked the land, and the family has joined with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust to see that the land is preserved.

A portion of the money for the conservation easement comes from the Gallatin Valley Open Lands Program. The program began in the early 2000s, and, over the past two decades, has approved more than 50,000 acres of open space for conservation.

Conservation Easement, Amsterdam-Churchill

Bales are stacked at the end of an irrigation line on farmland west of Bozeman on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The county recently approved a conservation easement on the property, covering 426 acres.

The program started by using borrowed money in the form of bonds to pay for land conservation projects. Two $10 million bonds were approved by voters in 2000 and 2004. But that money ran out in 2017.

Voters then approved a four-mill levy the following year. More than $1 million is available annually from the open space account fueled by taxpayer dollars.

The rest of the money is expected to come from an Agricultural Land Easement grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the value of the land that the family is donating for the easement, said Gallatin Valley Land Trust Executive Director Chet Work.

The grant was written more than a year and a half ago, Work said, and would provide roughly $700,000 for the easement. In total, the Flikkemas would be paid for a portion of what the easement is worth.

“They’re only getting compensated for about half of what they’re willing to give up on behalf of the community, and I think that is probably the most obvious sign of their interest of doing this on behalf of the community and their family,” Work said.

This easement would conserve the family’s land for agricultural purposes and prevent industrial or commercial activity on the property. A key component of obtaining funding from the NRCS was that the federal department designated 73% of the soil on the land as agriculturally significant, Work said.

Conservation Easement, Amsterdam-Churchill

A wheel line borders farmland west of Bozeman on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The county recently approved a conservation easement on the property, covering 426 acres.

The Flikkemas had a conservation easement placed on roughly 640 acres in 2013. At that time, the Open Lands Board — which considers requests to the county for funding on conservation projects — approved more than $174,000 for that easement.

That conservation easement, along with the new, 426-acre easement, are within two miles to one another. Gallatin Valley Land Trust tries to cluster conservation easements together, creating blocks of preserved land where agriculture and wildlife can thrive, Work said.

There are up to 15 different easements within 5 miles of this new chunk of preserved land.

“When you start piecing them together in a larger landscape, they start bumping into each other. It’s starting to get crowded out there,” Work said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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