In the flatter parts of Montana, some ranchers fence out subdivisions

  • Jerry Townsend on his 2,500-acre ranch

    Larry Beckner photo/Great Falls Tribune
 

GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Four years ago, Jerry Townsend and his family drove from their ranch in the shadow of the Highwood Mountains in the middle of Montana, bound for their children's track meet a few hours to the west. They climbed the Continental Divide and descended into the famed Blackfoot River Valley on their way to the city of Missoula.

The drive was lovely, but it was the race to put up new houses that got their attention.

Townsend, who ranches about 50 miles east of Great Falls, hadn't been to Missoula in years. He was stunned by how quickly horse pastures and grassy hillsides were disappearing and how fast subdivisions were taking their place.

The next year, Townsend put a conservation easement on almost all of his 2,500-acre ranch with the help of the Montana Land Reliance, a land trust founded in 1978 by farmers and ranchers. His gift of the easement makes it tax-deductible, and while the easement doesn't prohibit logging or even the sale of water rights, it will keep a mine or a subdivision off his land in perpetuity - even if the land is sold.

"The trend is certainly clear," says Townsend, his horse Windy nibbling green grass at his spur-heeled boots. "(Development) is not the legacy we want to leave."

The prospect of ranches in this open land giving way to developments is not easy to picture. Cattle, not subdivisions, still dominate the countryside. Black bear and mountain lion roam the mountains.

Townsend is not the only landowner in this part of Montana who is preparing for the eventual arrival of developers looking for what Wallace Stegner called "the last, best place." The Montana Land Reliance has brokered 268 deals that protect 278,643 acres of this rural landscape. It is the largest of seven private land trusts and two government agencies in Montana that have protected 670,230 acres from mining and housing developments. That's one percent of the state's private land.

Meanwhile, the Montana Agricultural Statistical Service reports that suburban tracts and other developments have gobbled up 3.1 million acres of farm and ranch land since 1974.

"Hopefully, 100 years from now, somebody will say, 'Gee, these people had foresight knowing what was coming down the road in 100 years,' " says Graham Taylor, a wildlife manager for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It is one of two government agencies and seven private land trusts that broker conservation easements in Montana.

"Ten years ago, people said 'I got time,' " says John Wilson of the Montana Land Reliance. "Now, they see the subdivisions, the satellite dishes and pole lights, and they're thinking they don't have any more time."

Karl Puckett writes for the Great Falls Tribune.

You can contact ...

* Montana Land Reliance, P.O. Box 355, Helena, MT 59624 (406/443-7027);

* Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Field Services Division, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701 (406/444-3939).

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Job Announcement: Executive Administrative Assistant (Part-Time) Announcement date: October 27, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: November...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job purpose The Executive Director is a proven leader with demonstrated and sustained experience managing people, budgets, fundraising, and contract compliance who guides a well-established...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Communications Associate to support the advancement of GYC's mission by working closely with the Communications Coordinator and program staff...
  • MONTANA DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure significant...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...