Skip to comments.Conservation Land Network paying to protect Montana lands
Posted on 05/07/2003 11:39:52 AM PDT by madfly
Conservationists have scored some impressive victories in their efforts to keep southwest Montana from becoming suburbia, largely by buying conservation easements on big ranches.
But despite protecting thousands of acres, there are still many more rural properties at risk of development.
To keep land from being further cut up and developed, a group of scientists, real estate agents and conservation groups have formed the Conservation Land Network, which encourages recreational buyers to protect the most important properties.
"We can't buy them all," Network Director Katie Kelly said. "So it's a matchmaker arrangement where we're trying to match the properties with a conservation buyer."
It was thought up three years ago by local conservationists who were spooked when the Cow Creek Ranch near Virginia City came up for sale.
The 18,000-acre ranch is nestled between the Tobacco Root and Gravelly mountains and part of the fear was that a subdivision would cut off wildlife between the two mountain ranges.
The Network's founders saw a chance to bridge the gap between conservation and real estate by matching conservation-minded buyers with ecologically important ranches and then encouraging conservation.
"It came to light that conservation buyers are very often made -- through an educational process," Kelly said.
Real estate agents are quick to extol a ranch's value as wildlife habitat. The problem is that those claims can be little more than a sales pitch lacking sound science.
That's where the Network comes in.
The Network has a panel of scientists -- primarily wildlife and fisheries biologists -- that ranks properties on the market relative to each other based on their importance for wildlife and conservation. An independent review by scientists who don't stand to profit from the sale gives the rankings a lot more weight, Kelly said.
Ranking criteria include:
"Conservation values," such as whether the land is elk winter range, a wildlife migration route or the quality of its streams for fish;
Market forces, such as the likelihood of development;
And the larger picture of the property's proximity to other open space.
"We've got a pretty rigorous outline of how we rank things," said Lance Craighead, a wildlife biologist who donates his expertise.
A property "gets higher value if it's close to public land that's managed well for wildlife, or if it's important for animals moving from one core area to another," he said.
For example, a ranch with key elk winter range, grizzly bears and a stream with cutthroat trout would quickly stand out.
A property with important migration routes for wildlife to move between mountain ranges, or a ranch with streams containing native fish, would also score well.
After such attributes have been determined, Brad Shepard, a Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist, looks at whether the property has surface water rights that could be used to keep stream flows healthy.
Just as important as the specifics of that parcel is it's piece in the larger puzzle of the Yellowstone ecosystem, Kelly said.
"The scientists can tell them that not only is this a great property in its own right, but it fits into a much greater ecosystem," she said.
Despite some debate about which property is No. 1, there's little doubt about which will come out in the top five, Kelly said.
"The same properties rise to the top," she said.
But the real estate brokers play a key role, too, since they are the ones who know when a prime property comes on the market, Kelly said.
The brokers get some exposure and a little free marketing.
But many brokers who sell ranch land are interested in preserving them, Kelly said. They like the Network's scientific analysis of properties, and the fact that the Network encourages its scientists to meet with new landowners, tour a property and teach people how to care for the land.
"Conservation buyers are made, not found, and the making is through education," said Network partner and real estate agent Dave Johnson. "It involves just explaining to them, while they start out with a desire for a pretty place in the mountains, the issues that are involved."
From the point of view of the Network, the kind of information exchanged in those tours allows landowners to make better land management choices, such as where to locate a house or erect a fence.
Fences shouldn't cut off important places where deer and elk travel, for example. Streambanks should be protected from livestock. And many newcomers need to be briefed on the ravaging effects of noxious weeds.
"A bunch of weeds to some are pretty flowers to another," Johnson said.
The next step is getting a landowner interested in long-term protection of their land, Kelly said. The Network hooks up landowners with land trusts that have information on conservation easements and the tax benefits that go with them.
Last year the Network ranked 38 properties.
Thus far, five of those have sold and two others are under contract.
Much of this is done by Kelly, who runs the network on a shoestring budget, working out of her house or snagging a desk in a real estate or conservation group's office.
Thus far, she has tried to focus on the northern end of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, although she's thrown in some ranches in the Big Hole Valley and other places.
Long term, however, Kelly said she'd like the Network to become a template for other parts of the country that face rapid sprawl, especially in the West.
"It makes sense to do this for the entire Rocky Mountain region because there are certain similarities," she said. "I'd definitely like this to be a model."
"The Conservation Land Network brings together a fantastic, broad coalition of professionals. Property endorsed by this group deserves attention and protection."
Our brokers help buyers find and buy Montana conservation real estate, including ranches, fly fishing properties, and hunting retreats. They can also advise buyers on the potential tax benefits of land conservation.
(Being the leftists that they are, I'm sure they are finding a way to pay for this with tax dollars, though. Bums..)
Are you talking to madfly or the writer of the article in the Bozeman newspaper? It's good the story got your dander up, that's why it was posted. Now direct that anger in a positive direction, don't kill the messenger.
You've got me all wrong. Two years ago when I first found FreeRepublic.com, a lot of folks were working on a series of threads called "Environmental Extremists Exposed", during the Klamath Basin Crisis. Reading them was a real eye opener and I learned a lot about the roots of the big Greenies and Agenda 21, etc.
I post articles like this to help people stay informed on the activity of these groups and their offshoots. I assure you I am not an envirowhacko!