Edible Bozeman

Photo courtesy of GVLT

Land Conservation Ensures Our Soil Continues to Grow Food

Gallatin Valley continues to experience rapid growth and development, which is changing our landscape. Much of our traditional working lands and important wildlife habitat is in danger of fragmentation and conversion to other uses. But there is a movement to protect our heritage, and conservation easements are effective tools that allow landowners to conserve the places they love for future generations.

For my husband, Whitney, conservation easements have been both a personal and professional journey. His grandparents owned a farm in northwest Connecticut: a mix of pastures, rolling hills, and forested mountains complete with a dairy herd and a trout-filled stream.

As his grandparents aged, it was clear that some estate planning was needed if the land were to remain intact and the family were to shelter some assets from tax collectors. It was agreed that the land would be sold but there was a keen interest in preserving the property’s character. The family put the land under a conservation easement prior to selling.

Like many tools, conservation easements involve potential benefits and possible limitations. Understanding both will help a landowner determine whether it’s the right tool for their situation. The following is assembled from information provided by Gallatin Valley Land Trust.


A conservation easement is a voluntary, private agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization to conserve the property’s agricultural, wildlife, and scenic resources. The agreement is customized to the interests of the landowner and crafted to protect the eased land from unwanted future development. The easement runs with the land forever and its terms encumber it for all current and future owners. Donation of a conservation easement may provide a landowner with income and estate tax savings. There is also the potential of compensation from local open-space programs and state and federal resource conservation programs.


Conservation easements do not change who owns or manages the land. Traditional uses such as farming, ranching, hunting, and timber management are generally not restricted as long as they are consistent with the conservation purposes of the easement. The landowner still manages and works the land. Conservation easements do not require (or prohibit) public access. The land remains the sole property of the landowner. Permission for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other forms of recreation is provided by the landowner, as on any other privately owned land.

“Here in the Gallatin Valley, GVLT has helped landowners conserve their land for reasons similar to Whitney’s family, but also to fund the stability and expansion of their farming and ranching operations,” says Chet Work, executive director of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. “The forever protection of open space, habitat, waterways, and farming heritage remains paramount in every agreement. These conserved properties ensure that the rich and productive soils of the Gallatin Valley continue to grow food.”

Whitney hasn’t gotten back to his grandparents’ farm since it was sold. But 25 years later, a friend described a chance visit. Captured in his description was the abiding landscape of pastures dotted with dairy cows, a meandering stream through rolling hills beneath forested mountains, and a small sign that reads: “This private property has been conserved …”

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