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The Gallatin Valley Land Trust this week finalized a 313-acre conservation easement on a farm in the East Gallatin area, ensuring that the land would remain open farmland in perpetuity.

“What we have done is we’ve crafted a legal agreement with the family that limits the type and amount of development that can occur on the property,” said GVLT executive director Chet Work. “What that does is it preserves the habitat, it preserves the open space.”

The farm the easement is on is owned by the Spring family and has been since 1902. It operated through the Great Depression, is home to a variety of native species like white-tailed deer and great blue herons, and continues to produce crops like wheat, barley and oats. GVLT had a third party appraise the land and the Spring family accepted under 20% of the appraisal amount as compensation for the easement, Work said, something that shows their dedication to the preservation of the land.

“I think of a conservation easement as the (Gallatin Valley) Land Trust helping a family achieve their goals for their property,” Work said. “A lot of times, we’re helping to keep these family lands in family hands, which is a great thing. They’re doing this because they want to do this. They’re not doing this because it’s a money making venture for them.”

And GVLT doesn’t do it alone.

“While we facilitate these transactions, obviously we need a partner in the landowner, but we also need partners to help us fund it,” Work said. For this most recent easement, GVLT worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and acquired funds from Gallatin County through the Open Space program.

“It’s important that everyone understand that it takes a whole village,” he said.

How long an easement takes to finish depends on a lot of factors. Sometimes, the landowner entering the easement needs money quickly, and GVLT will work to finish it in a timeline that works for that landowner or family. This most recent easement took about two years, in part because of the time it takes to apply and receive federal funds.

“When you spend two years working hard on the same project, you’re really fortunate to get to know one another pretty well,” he said.

GVLT’s work has been consistently ramping up over the last decade. The nonprofit completed eight conservation easements last year and is actively working on 13 more, with nine of those expected to wrap up by the end of the year.

“Gallatin Valley Land Trust has a really ambitious next year planned,” Work said. “We’re moving at a great pace, really, in spite of the COVID crisis.”

This story has been updated to accurately reflect the compensation provided for the easement. The Spring family accepted roughly 18% of the value of the land, or half of the appraised value of the conservation easement. 

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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