GVLT completes 117th conservation easement, reaches milestone of 50,000 acres conserved
The Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) has announced it has reached its 50,000 acres-conserved milestone with the successful completion of a conservation easement in the Amsterdam-Churchill area of Gallatin County on the Madison-Gallatin Plateau.
The 395-acre Bruce Visser Farm features prime agricultural soil, wildlife habitat, and scenic open space that now will be protected forever, according to a GVLT news release. The property adds to an existing block of 7,900 acres of conserved farmland that GVLT and farmers and ranchers have worked for decades to protect.
A conservation easement, GVLT’s primary tool for conservation, is a legal agreement between GVLT and the landowner that limits development on the property in perpetuity, keeping the landscape open and scenic forever.
“The Visser Farm is a productive working farm in an area of intense development pressure,” GVLT Lands Program Manager Chad Klinkenborg said. “The area has some of the best soil in the state of Montana and represents the open landscape of the Gallatin Valley. We had to protect it.”
The farm was first purchased in 1946 by Bruce Visser’s father, Henry. Today, Visser runs a small cattle operation on the property, and farms wheat, barley, and hay. His land provides excellent winter-range habitat for mule deer. Native montane grassland systems on the property are home to several species, including coyote, red fox, badger, and a variety of game and non-game grassland bird species.
Located just six miles from Four Corners and less than five miles from Churchill, the Visser Farm was at high risk of development. Nearing retirement and faced with increasing pressure from developers, Visser realized he would be forced to sell his family farm if he could not find a financially viable option to keep it in agriculture.
In a letter to the Gallatin County Open Lands Program, a funding partner on the project, Visser wrote, “An easement is the only way that I can preserve my ranch and ownership without sales or development. I have a lifetime of work and memories here as well as my dad before me. We have put everything we have ever achieved back into this ranch. I hope to be able to preserve it as a ranch property and continue to raise cattle, hay and grain.”
When landowners place a conservation easement on property, they transfer a property right – their ability to develop or split the property – to the land trust and therefore reduce the value of their land. While some landowners can fully donate the value of the development rights they transfer through a conservation easement, many cannot afford to do so. In those situations, GVLT works with the landowners to apply for funding to help cover the value of the conservation easement. The landowner always donates a portion of the value of the conservation easement, but the local and federal funding sources are critical to make these transactions possible for many farmers and ranchers.
The Visser conservation easement was funded by the Gallatin County Open Space Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Agricultural Lands Program, as well as a significant amount of value donated by the landowner. Now that his land is protected by a conservation easement, Visser hopes to retire and lease the land to a local farmer.
“This property will forever be 395 acres,” said Klinkenborg. “It will never be fragmented or developed for additional residences and has to remain in agricultural production forever. We are humbled to have been part of this effort and thankful to Bruce for this contribution to our valley’s future.”
The Bruce Visser Farm Conservation Easement represents GVLT’s 117th conservation easement for a grand total of 50,007 acres conserved. The 50,000 acres conserved milestone is a significant achievement for GVLT, and the Gallatin Valley.