Hello Private Conservation Boom!
Here in Montana we've had some amazing conservation successes. My little town is a popular place to live, and the population is growing accordingly. But the population is not, and never will, grow any further along the river-banks, up the mountains or into thousands of acres of old rangeland in the Missoula valley. Why? Because we decided to conserve that land for other uses. And we aren't alone.
The Land Trust Alliance, an umbrella group for small land trusts, just released a report that catalogs a boom in private land conservation. Land owners in America have set aside over 37 million acres of land for conservation. That number is up 11 million acres since 2000, a 54% increase. California leads the way with over 2 million acres preserved, but I'm pleased to see Montana on the list, with a 90% increase in protected acreage since 2000. Colorado has surpassed Montana though, with their protected acreage growing over 180% since 2000.The boom in land conservation has been fueled by the tons of small, local, often volunteer groups that create local interest in protecting land. Their hard work and dedication has resulted in a record 1.2 million acres preserved per year, triple the year 2000 rate. Of course, large land trusts, such as The Nature Conservancy, still play a huge role, but these small local groups have created the majority of the increased conservation over the past five years.
Much of the growth has been in the form of conservation easements for farm lands. Under these easements, farmers continue to work their land, but they sell off the rights to develop the land, meaning that their farms will forever stay farms, generally exactly what a farmer wants. This allows farmers to capitalize on the value of their land, while continuing to work the land as they always have. George Cofer of Hill Country Conservancy recalls "One rancher who put 5,700 [acres] in conservation recently told me, 'you saved not just my ranch, but my family.' "
The boom in land trusts is good for communities, farms, ranches, wildlife, hunters, birds, fish, and game animals of all sizes. There's no holding it back now, the true value of land is finally starting to be appreciated. If you aren't aware of any land trusts in your area, just go to the Land Trust Alliance website and see what's going on.