De Haan

Bea DeHaan is seeking to place a 4,520-acre easement on her property between Anceney Road and the Madison River atop the Madison Plateau.

The Gallatin County Commission approved an initial step toward paying just over $1.3 million for six conservation easements in the county Tuesday.

Six applications for the Open Lands Program have been submitted for this fiscal year, said Sean O’Callaghan, open lands coordinator for the county. Four were submitted by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, and two by the Montana Land Reliance.

All of the projects combined would place conservation easements on 7,197 acres in the county. The Gallatin Madison North Ranch conservation easement comprised the largest chunk, with the owner of the property, Bea DeHaan, seeking to place a 4,520-acre easement on the property located between Anceney Road and the Madison River atop the Madison Plateau.

Chad Klinkenborg, lands program manager at Gallatin Valley Land Trust, said that the property is within five miles of eight existing conservation easements sponsored by the organization, which combined have conserved around 5,000 acres of agricultural land.

The property was described as critical winter range for elk. An elk herd that has frequented the property has grown substantially over the years.

Gallatin Valley Land Trust asked for $420,000 from the Open Space Program for the easement, which is roughly 20 percent of the easement’s estimated value, Klinkenborg said.

The Camp Creek Land & Cattle Company conservation easement, another proposed by Gallatin Valley Land Trust, seeks to have a 1,802-acre easement placed on the property. The property is owned by Brent and Margaret Sinnema and runs along Camp Creek Road.

Courtney Naumann, lands project manager at Gallatin Valley Land Trust, said that the property has been farmed by the Sinnemas for three generations and is primarily used for cattle grazing. The property would sit next to the proposed Gallatin Madison North Ranch easement.

“This project specifically is a puzzle piece in the growing corridor of protected lands in Amsterdam-Churchill,” Naumann said.

Deer, elk and sandhill crane nests have all been spotted on the property, too. Gallatin Valley Land Trust asked for $380,000 from the Open Lands Program, which is about 20 percent of the estimated easement value, Naumann said.

The Rimkus Property, a conservation easement proposed by the Montana Land Reliance, is home to a large variety of animal species, including 47 species of birds and seven species of bats that are of concern, said Kathryn Kelly, the Greater Yellowstone manager for the conservation organization.

The Gallatin River corridor cuts diagonally through the property, which is within five miles of about 6,500 acres of conservation easements sponsored by the Montana Land Reliance and is a couple miles outside of Belgrade on Thorpe Road. The owners Leon and Alice Rimkus are seeking to place an easement on 203 acres.

Montana Land Reliance asked for $175,950 from the Open Lands Program, which is about 20 percent of the estimated value of the easement, Kelly said.

Kelly said that the proposed easement would protect unspoiled land and riparian habitat along the Gallatin River, which runs through the property. While there wasn’t a contiguous block of easements in the area, it could be a start.

“You got to start somewhere, and this might be the start of something that is going to happen along that corridor,” Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner said.

The unanimous approval for each easement was the first round of considerations by the commission. The easements are set for another round of reviews by the Open Lands Board before a final decision on applying the money from the Open Lands Program is made by the Gallatin County Commission.

The program would still have money left over should all of the projects get final approval, he said. About $524,000 could be rolled over into next year’s budget.

“We’re in a situation where there is more money available than there is a request for money,” O’Callaghan said.