'We have a stake in the place'

  • Wendy Ninteman

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

The Five Valleys Land Trust in Missoula, Mont., was founded 27 years ago to protect the area's river corridors. The group has since broadened its mission, and has protected over 15,000 acres with easements or acquisitions.Recently, the trust purchased 1,000 acres of land on Mount Sentinel, one of Missoula's best-known landmarks, and sold the land to the city.

Wendy Ninteman: "I think there's a strong argument to be made for local land trusts. We know what's going on in the community and we're community members. We have a stake in the place. We can take good care of easements and respond when opportunities arise. National organizations are doing great work, but on a different scale. Our involvement with these families goes beyond a newsletter. It's a personal, established relationship that goes on long after an easement is signed. Hopefully, we'll be there to see it through.

"We've established a stewardship and legal defense fund. That's really our insurance policy; a land trust is only as strong as its legal defense is. Every time we take an easement, we put money into the fund.

"Fortunately, we've never had to go to court, never had a serious violation, and I think one reason for that is that we've been diligent about our monitoring (of easements). That's critical, so we can catch problems early.

"Most of our easements are first generation, with a handful of second generation. There's no doubt that it becomes a lot more problematic when the land is no longer in the hands of the person who signed the easement. No doubt. That's what everyone's gearing up for."